Is (news) Ignorance Bliss?


Zite: Personalized Magazine for iPad from on Vimeo.

I remember when I was a little girl, my father used to sit at the kitchen table, with one knee bent horizontally over the other, arms stretched out, reading the Sunday paper.  While he was reading a particular section, whether it was Sports, Business, World or Local News, I would pick up a section he wasn’t reading and mimic his posture reading the paper.  I would check out Tom Skilling’s weather Q & A column, read my favorite comic strips or my horoscope, and scan for headlines that caught my interest.  When I had questions, we would discuss.  I’d read The Police Blotter to see if I knew anyone who was caught doing something so stupid, it warranted being written up and publicly humiliated in the newspaper. We would attempt to do the crossword puzzle together when we were done with the paper. I loved this time I got to spend with my father.  By time we were done, my fingers would have ink on them, and I’d leave evidence, accidentally of course, that I had read/touched the paper on the white kitchen table.  I also remember my Grandma’s hand written holiday or birthday cards she used to send.  They would always come with a newspaper clipping of The Family Circle cartoon.  That was her thing.

Fast forward to college where I studied Journalism.  I specifically remember being told the encouraging defeating lesson that newspapers are dying. The field in which you are studying to get your degree is dying.  Thus, by time I graduated, I was completely prepared for looking for a job outside of journalism.  I was aware that new forms of news were being created and that the Internet was quickly becoming/if not already had become the primary source for news for most people.

Today, my parents still get the Chicago Tribune and the local town paper.  Sometimes when I’m home, I flip through the pages briefly for any articles that might be interesting to read and of course steal the coupons. (Hey, I need to save all the money I can, trying to support myself isn’t easy!)  Like most people my age, I don’t subscribe to a newspaper right now. I get all my news from TV, the Redeye (local free daily paper) or the Internet.  I am not sure the percent, but I have heard that a large percent of the population age 18-35 get their political news from John Stewart.

Today, while watching Taxi TV in the cab on my way home, an ad came on talking about a new personalized magazine app for iPad users, called Zite.  It touts itself on being an intelligent magazine that allows you to customize and personalize subject matters.  Then it suggests topics based on your interests. That way you can read the news that only you care about. I am sure apps like Zite requires some effort on a reader’s part to set up the different topics of interest in order for the algorithms within to know what to recommend. My guess is that many people probably won’t take the time to input all their interests and possible topics they would potentially like to read about. Thus, creating a limited amount of news for Zite to deliver. I would also bet that this kind of app, like fine wine, only gets better with time.

 I do not have an iPad so I have not had the opportunity to play with this particular app but Zite I know that it is not alone. There are many other sites out there, like Dailyme and News Republic just to name a couple.  I realize that many people get their news on their mobile phones and it is the latest trend to personalize your news. We already are an egocentric country, is personalizing our news so that we ignore anything outside our personal bubble really a good idea? Who does that benefit?

When I look at a newspaper, I glance at the page and scan for topics that I want to read about.  I might stop to read about the latest research on what pregnant women should avoid, or I might choose to read about the most recent developments in Libya.  But what if I hadn’t set up my personal news source to display articles on pregnancy? Because lets face it, that is not on the forefront of my mind because I’m not pregnant!  Or, what if I had not yet looked up anything regarding the rebellion? Have you ever seen a headline that looked so bizarre you just had to click on it? Or what about those random articles that sites like MSN have alternating at the top. One of today’s random headlines was titled 25 Weird, Wild Vending Machines. Now that was one wacky headline that caught my attention, but I never would have thought to add it to my my customized news source.  In fact, all these articles would have been overlooked on my personalized news source. 

If people select their own news topics and do not even have an opportunity to glance over other headlines, what will that do to our intelligence? Even glancing gives us an idea of what other news is out there, even if we don’t read the full article.  In general, as Americans, we look like dimwits when compared to people in other countries who speak two, three, four or even more languages fluently, when we can barely speak our own native language, let alone master a second language.  The basic fundamental knowledge that Americans lack is quite disturbing.  Have you ever watched the Jaywalking segment on The Tonight Show? Click here to watch The Best Of Jaywalking but be prepared to be appalled by your fellow Americans. It is rather pathetic that people don’t know things like who our first president was, who our current vice president is, what states border the U.S., who shot Abraham Lincoln, or what the D.C. in Washington D.C. stands for.  Maybe I am making an assumption that people, like those on Jaywalking, would even download an app that provides news. Perhaps they would be too busy with Angry Birds or Flood-It or watching shows like Wipeout? 

 The Internet is the grandfather of news selectivity. I admit I use it to get a large portion of my daily news. Call me old fashioned but I still like traditional news.  I like being able to scan zig zag from top to bottom, from page to page. In newspapers alone, I enjoy flipping through the different sections and selecting which news topic I want to read that day.  I like getting towards the end and reading the horoscopes followed by the crosswords and Sudoku, which I try to complete. I like the sense of accomplishment I get when I close the newspaper and know I finished reading it.   I know technology is advancing and changing how we receive our news and information. I know newspapers are struggling to stay afloat.  But I miss those days of cutting out articles, getting The Family Circle from Grandma, sitting with my father at the kitchen table reading, or seeing the news for the day in its entirety, and having the news given to me, rather than me customize it.

They say ignorance is Bliss. But we are only hurting ourselves when we are not aware of what is going on in the world around us.

How do you get your news? Do you think personalized news is a positive or negative advancement. Knowing how far we have come in so few years, how do you think we will get our news in 5 – 10 -20 years?