Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Dick Meyer's "Why We Hate Us"

Dick Meyer was a reporter, producer, online editor, and columnist at CBS News in Washington for more than twenty-three years. He is now the editorial director of digital media at National Public Radio.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the 23rd worst page in the book.

Just kidding.

Page 99 comes toward the end of the chapter called “OmniMedia.” The gist of the chapter’s argument is that our everyday life and cognitive bandwidth has more “media” – information available only in mediated form, not direct – than ever. We tend to focus on the quality of media (biased, tawdry, etc.), but the quantity is what is new and overwhelming. And while new media has potential to take many virtuous paths, thus far it is bringing more marketing, more consumerism, more anonymity, more isolation and more toxic culture into our life. It devours time. As such it has become another thing we “hate,” wittingly or not. It’s part of “why we hate us.”

In discussing whether new media can ever foster profound human connection and community, I wrote, “The single greatest explanation for why we hate is the decline of organic community. Replacing that… is vital.” This is a core argument of the book: Our deep disenchantment with our own culture comes from our mobility, geographic and spiritual, which has left us without either a community of kin and intimates or a community or values. Before the 1960s, Americans essentially inherited both, but have since rejected the idea that it is wise and natural to inherit wisdom, values and tradition from history and family. Americans thought the ideal was to invent or discover all that from the Self. It hasn’t worked and we are left isolated and disconcerted.

Contrary to what post-Me-Decade self-help recipes instruct, authenticity comes from outside your Self, from community, belonging and respectful treatment of others, which was once called morality. But in a mobile society, this does not happen organically or easily. It takes great and enduring effort.
Read an excerpt from Why We Hate Us, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue