The quality of democratic governance in any country is contingent upon the quality of its public discourse. A well-informed public with a sense of civic responsibility allows democracy the opportunity to prosper, and the quality of this public discourse is reliant upon the mediums through which information and ideas are imparted. Of course, in order to become well-informed, the public must first be educated and capable of discerning reality from falsehood.
Here is a brief list that I have compiled of authors worth reading–the beginner’s reading list for a media-literate society, if you will.
The typical dystopian construct is that of George Orwell’s 1984. The public is under watch by Big Brother, living in fear and oppressed by the authoritarian state in which they live. Such a fate is many a person’s greatest fear, but Postman argues that we should instead concern ourselves with the circumstances of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, where the public is controlled not by fear but rather by apathy. Written in the 1980s, Postman’s book is perhaps even more relevant today than when it was first published several decades ago. With advancements in technology dating as far back as the invention of the telegraph, the age of “infotainment” has infiltrated aspects of society which should not be susceptible to the commoditization of information. As Postman writes, two of the most dangerous words in the English language – “Now…this” – serve as a warning against the incessant stream of information and highlight the necessity to reflect upon and, when necessary, criticize the information transmitted to the public.
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr
It is difficult for most to envision a life without the internet. Advancements in technology have had undeniable effects on society, but as Nicholas Carr argues, not all of these effects are advantageous to society’s overall development and progress. Technology has shaped and continues to shape the way we think. The influence of the internet on our cognitive development is not unprecedented, as Carr demonstrates by exploring everything from the invention of maps to the printing press. Information is now available quickly, more efficiently than ever, but our ability to grasp and comprehend this information is being threatened by this so-called efficacy.
The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You by Eli Pariser
Technological advancements are driven by profit for the companies responsible for them, but for the public they are driven primarily by convenience. However, is this really the best solution? Pariser highlights the commoditization of internet users’ personal information, and how this has resulted in the internet becoming an increasingly personalized experience. A simple Google search on the same subject can result in different search results for different people, depending on their internet history. As a result, we exist in a bubble, receiving only information that is supposed to benefit us. But how reliable is a search algorithm? And what information is being kept from us in the process?
The New Media Monopoly by Ben Bagdikian
First published in the 1980s, Bagdikian predicted the ever-increasing concentration of media ownership – and he was correct. Today, a small handful of companies have assumed control of US media ownership, and the consequences of this are unpromising not only for the quality of media, but for the political system and social values, as well. Bagdikian’s critique of media ownership is both incredibly alarming and thought-provoking. It is accessible to even the most casual reader, and it is essential reading for everyone hoping to understand the current state of the US media.
The Political Economy of Media: Enduring Issues, Emerging Dilemmas by Robert McChesney
Robert McChesney’s book is a meticulous historical resource for anyone interested in learning the history of the US media, and how the centralization of media ownership is no recent phenomenon. There are various aspects of the US media that McChesney examines, such as the myth of the so-called liberal ,edia, how objectivity is not necessarily the best solution in regards to journalistic integrity, and the decline of serious, investigative journalism. Our system is incredibly flawed, and McChesney demonstrates, like Bagdikian, how the influence of this flawed system has consequences on the political system as well.
Caitlyn Garcia is a student at William Paterson University, double-majoring in French language & literature and political science.