After shopping, a woman returned to the parking lot to discover that the car next to her had parked so close that it was difficult for her to open the driver’s door to get in. As she struggled to open it enough to slide in, the driver of the other car arrived and offered to get in his car first and move it, so that she could enter her car with ease. The lady commented that it was her problem and she would continue maneuvering around. The gentleman countered with it was “their” problem since there were both in this world (and at the time…same place) as he politely got in his car and backed out. This man’s kindness and sharing responsibility for the cars being parked too closely allowed for the situation to be resolved amiably and expeditiously.

Such human interest stories were once prominent in daily news broadcasts, but today this story is an anomaly. Broadcast luminary Edward R. Murrow commented that news was a service to people and if it ever became a profit center, we’d be in the trouble. Murrow who achieved international distinction in broadcasting, first as a radio correspondent reporting from London in World War II did not live to see his predictions come to fruition! His 1965 death preceded the advent of modern day technology, its effect on how people interact with each other, and its impact on the news.

So what makes the parking lot situation stand out in today’s world? One answer that quickly comes to mind is, the absence of civility. Words like politeness, courtesy, consideration and respect are becoming less prominent as people move away from face-to-face interaction. Technology allows people to communicate by removing the in-person component. We have defined that concept as being “once-removed” from others.  Social media allows people to chat, make business deals, set up romantic dates, study classes, and hurl insults at others without ever meeting people in the flesh!

Being once-removed from in-person human interaction also makes it easy for people to:

  • bully others
  • express opinions that one would never have the courage to voice in person
  • be anonymous in voicing opinions about anything or anyone
  • have a platform to slander people or groups

The latter is what also greatly impacts the news which is shifting into the area of profit centers! Once people turned on the television news or read newspapers to simply learn what was going on in their community or the world, but now many news stations and print media present slanted opinions. This “media bias” occurs when broadcast and print news sources systematically skew reporting in ways that crosses standards of professional journalism. Claims of media bias in the United States include assertions of liberal bias, conservative bias, mainstream bias, corporate bias, and more. Technology allows people to access such skewed reporting via their telephones, computers, in additional to TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines. Cable channels that viewers pay for can include fewer restrictions on journalism standards and what is reported can be classified as entertainment.

Let’s face it, Murrow predicted this decades ago…people pay for the news that espouses the views that they want to hear…creating profits.

Back to our once-removed theory. The countless avenues that technology has created for consumers to express or slander people or organizations can be done without personal contact including face-to-face interviews. Once-removed also includes removal of “opinion filters”. Admired celebrities make public inflammatory comments on public issues, groups of people, and politicians. Their fans often look up to them and will either take their side or turn against them.

In some regards this once-removed method of community has advantages. It certainly allows for messages to be transmitted faster than waiting to schedule live conferences and meetings.  It lets people who live far away from each other to be in touch with without paying travel and hotel fees.  And it can be a cost-effective way for people to conduct business in the comfort of their homes. Sadly the downside of the once removed behavior has more damaging results.

In a nutshell, removal of face-to-face contact permits cowardice to run amuck! Prior to recent technology, hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) wore white sheets to mask their identities as they burned crosses in yards and performed other heinous crimes. When used to promote hatred, the social media sites can serve as “digital white sheets.”

As technology fuels a shift in communication that removes the element of human touch, we see the loss of human interest stories because (when they occur) they aren’t interesting and they certainly aren’t sensational. Watch the news when there is an incident of violence, and count the number of onlookers capturing the incident on their cell phones. Often times these videos are sent to news channels and aired for all to see! I doubt if anyone videotaped the man and woman having a friendly exchange in the parking lot.

The real challenge for future generations will be to blend the value of human connection with rapidly evolving technology to restore civility!

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