What does the media want?
Our time and our attention and hopefully in the well oiled gearboxes of capitalism, our money.
I have a very short attention span when it comes to passively immersing myself into advertisements but sometimes, it is inevitable. I have all the blocks to keep myself from constant programming, I have de-googled and de-facebooked my life to a large extent, I have an employ of privacy features on my devices and I even pay for services that we have otherwise taken for granted but still, I am being advertised to and I am influenced by media propaganda just as much as anyone else.
I walk down the streets and see advertisements for hipster brands on bus stops and on buses, there advertisements for things I don't care about on walls, doors, hanging from supermarket ceilings and worse still, embedded into media pretending to be genuine content but nudging me to do something I do not want nonetheless. Though I have become insulated against this general messaging what I am not insulated against is in feeling one with the others, being a part of the herd even when I am not thinking the same things as the herd. I might hear about a stabbing on the London bridge or a rape in Hyderabad, I might or might not have feelings for these incidents but still, my mind is hijacked by these subjects in a way I do not have any control over them, or do I?
At what point does it become obvious that a particular news story is not worth my attention or when do I know that a certain subject needs my complete focus and thought, so that I can apply my knowledge and make the world 'a better place'? Making the world a better place is not why I think of things. I think of things because it is almost an ambient, natural response to events, my frame of reference to the things that happen around and inside me. In this sense there is no objective truth I am essentially pursuing even though I know that there are facts, but those facts exists because I understand them. Otherwise I could be a flat-earther talking about how vaccines are bad and how the Jews are the Illuminati and the Nazis are playing football on the moon.
Making the world a better place is not the objective but thinking about the world I live in is. Being human also puts me square in the hive mind of things, eventually I consume what all the others do, no matter how high and snooty I wish to be. In some analyst's computer right now I am a blip who has spent the same amount on average on a Coke product than the nose-picking Joe Guy sitting next to me on the Metro and I do not even know it. Saying which, does talking about an issue that is the center of focus of media attention mean that I am swayed by the media machine that demands my eye balls and my brain cells? Mass media tells me things without me even paying for them, social media is just like this essay, throwing words about topics I did not even subscribe to but being human I am held sway by what people talk and since I want to belong, I participate first by listening and then by talking. The in-between stages is by the meta-talking and meta-listening I do by injecting ideas in interpersonal conversations, which are again narratives over which I have no control over after the initial ignition.
This personal stages of opinion forming is what the media does for me, it is thinking outsourced to a well branded agency that I am told I must trust. The media talks about itself in a self-flagellating sense of entitlement, projecting itself as the upholder of value, virtue and the truth. The truth it is, as the media sees it or the people holding control of the cameras and the people holding control of the people holding the cameras. The media also has the responsibility to be relevant and keep its business model alive so each moment there is a new ping of information, bread crumbs for the wagging dog.
What the media does for reporting is what we do for our lives itself. We are confronted with a complex world where there are thousands of narratives building themselves around us in a single moment but we do not have the necessary brain power to process and make sense of what is unfolding in the immediate reality before us, so we have to satisfy ourselves with simplistic narratives that help us focus on other aspects of living – mainly work. This is also a deliberate function of a highly industrialized and capitalistic world where people are mere economic actors and their role in the political process is reduced to a number that votes to their particular smidgen of colour.
There was a time a decade ago with the nascency of the internet was taking over the world there was a talk of decentralized citizen journalists revolutionizing media itself. What these commentators in newspapers and other traditional media did not expect was social media and the subsequent boom. What they imagined as a decentralized reporting apparatus has instead become a walled garden of algorithms deciding who hears what without telling why such a conclusion has been made in the first place. This obfuscation of the rules underlying communication puts consumers in a space of not understanding the bias of the media they are consuming. As it happens, most media ownership is now controlled by a few handful of people across the planet and that is not a good sign, to have the future of the world shaped by the gentle nudge of a few.
The ultimate product of the media is not the content but us, it lulls us into comfortable anger, confuses us with information overload, distracts us and in the end makes us be what it intended in the first place, docile humans who will work and live, maintaining the status quo. The media makes us complacent in having voice, making sure that we have just the right amount, not more and not less. When we choose to vote with our eyeballs and keystrokes we are pandering to this opinion forming machine. So what does the media really want? In short, nothing less than your soul.