Friday, August 26, 2011

Why the News is Scary

Our interconnected-ness can distort the world.

Now let's get a handle on what it really means to have a 1-in-6,500 or a 1-in-13,000 chance of dying. It's as if you lived on an island in the South Pacific with a population of 650. You make your living by swimming around in the azure waters around your idyllic paradise and spearing fish for dinner. Yum, yum. About once every ten years, a stray shark happens by and eats a swimmer. That's a 1-in-6,500 chance of any one person being eaten by a shark, just the same as the odds of dying in an automobile accident in the U.S. in 1992.
Also, about once every 20 years, two men get into an overheated argument over a fish or a woman and one of them kills the other with his spear. That's a 1-in-13,000 chance of being killed in an argument, just the same as the odds of being killed by someone else with a gun in the U.S. in 1992.
These are very sad events, and probably dinner-table conversation for quite a few days, but not the be-all and end-all of life. Fortunately, since you live on an isolated island, these events come and go, and life goes on.
But now imagine there are 392,000 of these islands all linked by television and INN (Island News Network). This brings the total population to about 254 million, less than the U.S. today. Every night, INN reports on the goriest of the 107 shark attacks and 54 spear deaths that day. Suddenly people's picture of the world is quite different. From a peaceful existence disrupted only by a tragedy every few years, you go to a fear-ridden hell filled with crime and terror.
Isn't this interesting? Nothing has changed except the addition of television. Yet now it feels like you're living in a dangerous world, not an idyllic paradise. Same number of shark attacks, same number of spear deaths. What happened?

(from about page 247 of Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme by Richard Brodie).

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