Elon University

A vision for the future

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Name: Paul McFate

From: Utah

Bio: Online Communications Specialist

Area of Expertise: Author/Editor/Journalist

Topic: Communication

Headline: Information Troughs: Splintering of Media Culture to be Magnified Online

Nutshell: The splintering of the media that occurred with the proliferation of television and radio channels and choices will be magnified online. This will polarize, rather than unite us.


With consumer choice driving content delivery, people are freer than ever to choose to watch or listen to "whatever I want" on television or radio. With internet channels abounding, they can now ignore those media outlets completely. No president or leader can make a general announcement to the population. Newspapers are in decline. Online you can choose what news topics to follow, and people do often choose very narrow topics – conservatives listening only to conservative sources, and liberals listening only to liberal sources. I call these “information troughs”. The resulting polarization is very evident in American politics, but our communities are divided along many invisible borders ranging from gamers who spend most of their life online, to those who login briefly once a day to check emails and headlines. Thus the exercise of communication will become "preaching to the choir" instead of engaging those of opposing opinions. No surprise that Christians feel persecuted by gay activists and gay activists feel persecuted by Christians. Environmentalists, gun lobbyists, pacifists, capitalists, all feel they have the answer, if only their opponents really understood the facts. But their efforts to educate are directed primarily to those who have "opted in". Each group is feeding from different meal plans carefully tailored to support their individual belief systems. And now, instead of having friends in the community, we have friends – and family—on Facebook. We will reach the point where we so effectively isolate ourselves physically and by information trough, that everyone will feel the whole world is crazy, except for ourselves, of course. The wildcard in all of this is the “undecided” populace on each issue, and this group is sometimes courted vigorously, especially during elections. The object is to get them feeding from your “information trough” which is, undoubtedly, the correct one .

Date Submitted: December 29, 2009