Friday, August 5, 2016

Evolution of Non-Traditional News Sources

Presented to The Villages Philosophy Club, 5 August 2016. The ubiquitous smart phone camera and social-media have empowered “citizen journalists” to greatly augment, and in some cases replace, traditional news reporters and photographers. What is our part in this revolution and the mostly positive results?
When I was a kid, the only news sources were newspapers and the major broadcast networks, NBC, CBS, and ABC, first radio and then TV.


Nowadays, when surveillance cameras are everywhere and "everyone" has a SmartPhone with a camera, and many  of us have multiple channels on social media, a new type of "news" media has evolved.

Of course, the "major media" are concerned about losing their elite position at the head of the news "food chain", but even their reports often feature SmartPhone video and FaceBook postings and Twitter Tweets from celebrities..

There is no doubt that what I call the "SmartPhone Video Camera Effect" has some serious negative effects, distorting our collective view of things like the danger of criminal violence, extreme weather, terrorism, unjustified shooting of unarmed young (black) men and police officers.

However, IMHO, the overall effect is positive. As non-traditional news sources continue to evolve, we'll gain a more complete and overall more accurate view of the society we live in and the world around us.


4.5 Billion years ago - the primitive LITHOSPHERE, HYDROSPHERE and ATMOSPHERE - The Earth started as a ball of molten material and gas. Over many millions of years, the land cooled and the tectonic plates that were to become the continents solidified and took form, along with the oceans.. "Litho-" means "Stone". "Hydro-" means "Water". "Atmos-" means "Vapor".  These foundational levels continue to evolve.

3.5 Billion years ago - the BIOSPHERE - According to the best available estimates, about three and a half Billion years ago, life originated and developed into primitive blue-green algae (single-cell bacteria).  Then, around a Billion and a half years ago, multi-cell life evolved. Around half a Billion years ago multi-cell life evolved into plants and animals. These forms of life continue to evolve. "Bio-" means "Life".

100,000 Years ago - the NOOSPHERE - Mammals we call the "Primates" ("prime" or "first rank") evolved around 60 or 70 Million  years ago, and then into the "Great Apes" and then into "Hominids".  "Humans" with large brains like our own evolved about 100,000 years ago. "Noos-" means "Mind".


100,000 years ago, when a Human had an idea, he or she passed it on to another, and, if it was a good idea, it would be passed on to many others. Perhaps, combined with other ideas, it would spread far and wide. Indeed, although it might take hundreds or thousands of years, really good ideas were practically guaranteed to eventually spread worldwide.

Thus, the original NOOSPHERE, the "mind" of the Earth, was worldwide, but incredibly slow. However, it is said that thinking, no matter how slowly, is still thinking!

With the invention of written language, monuments, clay tablets, papyrus documents, books, and newspapers, our ideas became inscribed into a fixed form that would extend beyond individual lifetimes.

Thus, the evolving NOOSPHERE developed a "memory" something like that of an individual human mind. The Earth's "mind" was then not only worldwide, but more stable, and perhaps a bit faster.

With the advent of the telegraph, telephone, and radio in our grandparents and parent's time, and television in our own time, the speed and extent of communications was greatly extended. Thus, the evolving NOOSPHERE developed a speed and extent of "thinking" that exceeded that of an individual human mind.

However, the NOOSPHERE did not really come into its own until the advent of computers, especially personal computers, and the Internet. Add to that emails, blogs, and Social Media, and any idea that occurred to any human anywhere on Earth could be transmitted instantly to any other human, and could be shared and discussed and further developed by dozens, hundreds, or millions of people.

With the advent of the Tablet Computer and the SmartPhone, "everyone" had access to a high-quality camera (both still and video) and a way to share those images instantly with others, potentially a large fraction of the human race.

I find it amazing privilege to have lived at a time when the evolving NOOSPHERE developed a worldwide "awareness" that greatly exceeds that of an individual human mind. The Earth's "mind" has worldwide awareness and photographic memory of unprecedented scope, speed, and "intelligence".

We cannot be certain if the Universe exists "in the Mind of God" or in the "Matrix", but we can be certain that we have created an incredible worldwide Mind and Matrix. The only question in doubt is if we shall be able to manage it or not!


Anything new threatens the Elitist Authorities. The invention of written language was a threat to the keepers of "oral traditions" who passed down "history" from generation to generation. Once fixed into written form, these stories could not be altered as easily, which was an advantage for accuracy, but exposed many of the stories as unfounded "myths".

The invention of movable type made books available to more people, which was perceived as a threat to the religious and intellectual elite. Mass publication further diluted the power of the elite.

The elite, however, maintained control of the mass media (major newspapers, magazines, and radio and TV broadcasting). Professional authors and reporters wrote the news and, under the control of the massive media conglomerate publishing and broadcasting corporations, they passed on a version of what they considered to be the "news" to us, "the great unwashed public". Of course, we had a voice, of sorts, via letters to the editor. And, we could choose which newspapers and broadcast stations we would patronize, but, when they were all basically the same, our control was limited.

However,  with the advent of (mostly) conservative Talk Radio, with opportunity for listener call-in, the public found a greater voice. With the advent of Fox News and other conservative-leaning broadcasting, the (mostly) liberal elite were set back further. However, even conservative-leaning media are elite in a sense.

Thus, as I noted above, it was the advent of personal computers, the internet, and especially the SmartPhone and Social Media that have really unseated the elite, both left, right, and middle!

We Citizen Journalists now have a presence via blogs, YouTube, FaceBook, and other Social Media!

Even the mass media find themselves using video posted by Citizen Journalists as the most far-reaching, real-time window on whatever is happening anywhere in the world at any moment in time.


Anything new both illuminates and distorts current reality. Here are a few examples


Many people are convinced that Global Warming (aka "Climate Change") is causing much more dangerous "Extreme Weather" events and that human activities, such as burning unprecedented quantities of fossil fuels, are mostly responsible.

Could it be that Citizen Journalist's graphic images and videos of Extreme Weather disasters, shared via Social Media and broadcast on TV news programs, are responsible for this misperception?

Is the US government, via NASA/NOAA hopping on that meme in an unfair way to push the "Environmentalist" political agenda?

The graphic below seems to indicate a dramatic INCREASE in Billion-Dollar Extreme Weather events between 1980 and 2016.
However, while the data are adjusted for CPI (Consumer Price Index, basically inflation) since 1980, they do not take into account the 42% population growth, and the 67% GDP per capita growth since 1980! We are living in larger homes, and business, industry, and public infrastructure has increased. Thus, any given storm that hits in a highly populated and developed area will naturally cause more expensive damage than one that impacts a remote, unpopulated region.

For that reason, the cost curves in the above graphic (the gray and black lines) are misleading. The 2016 level is drawn more than double the height it should occupy if population and GDP growth per capita are considered!

Furthermore, the  bar  graph gives equal representation to a "Severe Storm" (average cost $2.2B) and a "Tropical Cyclone" (average cost $16.1B), which is seven times more. (Reminds me of the restaurant that advertised 50/50% surf and turf that was heavy on  the steak and light on the lobster. They used one lobster and one cow and figured it was 50/50%!)


The graphic below, from
indicates that, although Violent Crimes actually DECREASED between 1993 and 2014, the general public believes that Violent Crimes have INCREASED year-to-year during that period!

Could it be that "citizen journalist's" graphic images and videos of Violent Crime incidents, shared via Social Media and broadcast on TV news programs, are responsible for this misperception?

Perhaps the amazing increase in SmartPhone and Tablet ownership, from fewer than 1 million in 2001 to over 200 million in 2014, is what distorted our perceptions.


ARCHIE BUNKER famously said "The only difference between New York and Los Angeles is that, when they shoot you in New York, you know why!"

If I asked you which major US cities are the most dangerous, which would  you guess? Well, since we are probably most sensitive to the number of especially noteworthy crimes, such as police shootings of unarmed men (especially Blacks) and the shootings of police by terrorists or mentally disturbed individuals, our perceptions may be distorted. The graphic nature of SmartPhone videos may add to the distortion.
The graphic above considers six large US cities. The leftmost panel shows that New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles have the most Violent Crimes per year (NYC over 50,000, Chicago over 24,000, and Los Angeles over 19,000 in 2014). But, considering population differences, which  US cities are really  the most dangerous?

The rightmost panel gives the answer. Detroit, with 13,616 Violent Crimes in 2014, has only one-twelfth the population of NYC, so its actual Violent Crime RATE is 3.7 times greater! Similarly, Philadelphia has a 3.3 times higher rate, and Chicago a rate 2.1 times greater. San Jose, the safest of the cities shown in the graphic, actually has a population greater than Detroit, the most dangerous!

Ira Glickstein

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