Suzanne Fields

Audiences know what they want, and they want it quickly and on the run, like a burger and fries at the drive-thru window. Nearly half of all Americans get some form of local news on a mobile device. Although only 7 percent of Americans said they owned a portable tablet in January, that number had doubled in the previous four months, so you can imagine what it will be by the end of the year. Apple's latest iPad 2 sold out on the weekend it was launched. More than a hundred various tablets are either on sale or in development. It took Moses a long time to carve those commandments on tablets on Mount Sinai; it takes only seconds to send news to an electronic tablet.

That's partly bad but not all bad. What we're losing in quality writing -- some of what goes on the Internet is little more than illiterate doggerel -- we may be making up in a better-informed public. Logged-in Internet teenagers are often up to date about what's going on in the world because they read news flashes on their electronic screens. They can't escape what's happening. In that sense, social media widens the audience for what's going on; analysis and comment is only another click away.

James Fallows published "Breaking the News" 15 years ago in which he argued that the focus on scandal and the "game" of politics was driving citizens away from thoughtful consideration of public affairs. But now he's not so sure. He's reevaluating. "With each passing month, people can get more of what they want and less of what someone else thinks they should have," he writes in Atlantic magazine. The variety of news sites actually reaches out to those with a more measured interest in politics, not simply politicos who are addicted to the polarized purveyors of rage. There are more niches to explore.

No matter how we regard this change, what we need to do now is face up to the inevitability of the shift and guard against the downside, the way the new, processed media can limit the ability to think between obsession with quick hits. In the 1976 hit movie "Network," which satirized televised news as a wasteland, a dismissed anchor screams, "TV is not the truth." He tells his audience to get mad, fight back and yell at the dehumanization of the tube: "I'm a human being; my life has value." A lot of people are yelling on the Web.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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