Photo: PexelsStuck in the theatre, searching for an exit Melanie Baker September 29, 2016 Columns, Featured, M-Theory In a perfect world, I wouldn’t know anything about the U.S. presidential debate that took place the other evening. I didn’t watch. I even avoided social media for the evening. Not that it helped. The following morning my feeds were a tsunami of commentary and memes, many of which were re-posts from the previous night. Just like being there! Sigh. It says a lot about how social media platforms were and continue to be designed when I can’t easily mute a person, topic, or event on any of the platforms for a selected period of time. If I could do that, I could probably exercise deft control over experiences like being advertised to as well. And, well, the internets haven’t really figured out a better model to make money than ads yet, so best just to keep peoples hands (eyeballs?) tied. Wonder how that’s working out for them…? The other option? Just… don’t look. None of our mainstream options really encourage broad scale learning, discussion, or real community building anyway. I am all for people being informed, involved, and active in the future of their countries (when granted the rights to do so). But the presidential debate, and so many other comparable “events,” are not even remotely about that. It’s theatre. A show. And not even a new or unique show. That’s all it’s ever meant to be. 1) We consume entertainment (presidential debate, Kardashian shenanigans, etc.). 2) Using Step 1 content as the basis, we entertain each other and ourselves. 3) Critiques of Step 2, often with a hefty dose of contempt and shame as to why we are wrong and shouldn’t have said/done that. 4) A combination of rebuttal by some others to Step 3 and/or satire about them having their heads too far up their own posteriors. By then our attention spans have been exhausted and we move on. Americans and their media are an easy target to slag, and the biggest one. But lest ye forget our election frenzy from last year this time, we’re not immune, either. Ever wonder what’s been going on in the world that we don’t know about because it wasn’t deemed newsworthy? (Checking non-North American news sources can help with that sometimes.) I would be genuinely interested and surprised to talk to someone from any political viewpoint who actually hoped to learn something from the debate the other night, and feels like they did. And what was it? Here’s the thing: we built this. The growth of social media, the ascendance of “reality” TV, and the disappearance of traditional news coverage really ramped up around the same time. Now we’ve gotten to a point there we don’t remember, know, or often want anything else. We aren’t programmed for more than 140 characters or a few seconds of video anymore. When people want longer video, it almost invariably seems to end up being with the intent of getting at the truth around how someone died. Apparently that requires protests and riots now that we’re getting short on journalists. Problem is, you can’t discuss, debate, learn much of anything within social media length restrictions. What’s the difference between a meme and an infographic, really? Liberal-leaning folks can post endless items on Sexism 101 and screenshots proving Trump lies as often as he breathes, but what does it matter? The other liberal-leaning folks already know, and the Other Side doesn’t care. On websites, it’s about who can break the latest Brangelina divorce “news,” not about thoughtfully exploring real events, issues and differences. I’ve read maybe two good long-form pieces in the past year that have helped me understand other political ideologies. I’ve seen at least four conspiracy pieces on Trump’s secret plans in the last month. Real journalism gets damned with a TL;DR stamp, but it gets killed off because it’s expensive. That content can take months or longer to research, and journalists have to live off something in the mean time. When even Buzzfeed shuts down its political experiments (in Canada, anyway), I dunno how much hope remains. But hey, maybe Peter Mansbridge will move over to VICELAND after he retires… Last evening over beers a friend was ranting that no one covers local news in town anymore. Like, actual news. Stuff that happens and needs someone to rush to the scene. Not content that was pre-planned and written up and scheduled for publication. We noted that that’s what Twitter was always for. (Real-people Twitter, not just outlets just posting links to their pre-scheduled stuff.) But then people Twitter got kinda busy with threats, abuse, and spam. So that’s where we are. If you want real news, get ready for a fire hose of information and hope you manage to catch the occasional relevant nugget. How do we turn an echo chamber back into a round table? I don’t know. A lot of the time these days it feels like we’d have to burn it all down before we can build it back up. Perhaps some are finding their own way via crowdfunding, podcasts, private communities and the like. I don’t think a return to tuning in every evening to a patriarchal figure spoon-feeding us what we should know and think is the answer, either. Perhaps it just requires a whole lot more people to get fed up and refuse to play along with garbage theatricality anymore. M-Theory is an opinion column by Melanie Baker. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Communitech. Melle can be reached @melle or email@example.com.