Munchausen by Proxy by Media

MBP is a particularly tragic form of child abuse. Parents or caregivers induce illness in their kids to get more attention.

The thing is, the media does this to us all the time. (Actually, we've been doing it to ourselves, by rewarding the media for making us panic.)

It started a century ago with the Spanish American War. Disasters sell newspapers. And a moment-by-moment crisis gooses cable ratings, and horrible surprises are reliable clickbait. The media rarely seeks out people or incidents that encourage us to be calm, rational or optimistic.

Even when they're not actually causing unfortunate events, they're working to get us to believe that things are on the brink of disaster. People who are confident, happy and secure rarely stay glued to the news.

The media is one of the most powerful changes we've made to our culture/our lives (I'd argue that the industrial revolution and advances in medicine are the other two biggest contenders). And yet because we're all soaking in it, all the time, we don't notice it, don't consider it actively and succumb to what it wants, daily.

Steven Pinker's brilliant book makes it clear that the world is safer than it's ever been. A large reason his thesis feels wrong to so many is that the media wants us to think that we're on a precipice, every day. Paradoxically, the cultural-connection power of the media is one reason why things are actually safer. [Check out Matt Ridley's optimistic take as well].

I'm fascinated by this paradox. By connecting us, by integrating cultures and by focusing attention on injustice, the media has dramatically improved the quality of life for everyone on the planet. At the same time, by amplifying the perception of danger and disaster, the media has persuaded us that things are actually getting worse. It creates a reason for optimism and then makes a profit by selling pessimism.

I don't think the media-industrial complex has earned the pass we give it. They built what we wanted, they built what worked, but the race for attention often is conflated with a race to the bottom. It takes guts to say, "no, we're not going to go there, even if the audience is itching for it."

We're the media now, and we can do better.