While the media obsesses about the fortunes of the few, the fate of the many hangs in balance. There was a theory that more media would bring greater enlightenment. In practice, it has not! It has merely provided a platform for the uncouth to make a mess of issues and provide a constant tamasha.
More importantly, it is leading to the coarsening of culture and the slippage of standards and basic norms. How often does one see a conversation proceed with a cutting remark?
‘Breaking News’ is only breaking common sense. The over-saturation of talk shows is feeding the insatiable appetite for sensationalism and alarmism. More is not necessarily better.
The decline in civility and etiquette is one side effect of too much information. The cawing of crows does not herald a spring.
Who stands to benefit? None other than those impersonating as ‘leaders’ under the hijab of democracy.
Meanwhile, issues of public well being remain unattended. And basic necessities including, but not limited to, gas, electricity, medical care, along with meeting minimum expectations of human dignity values, are out of reach of the vast majority. Put together, it is generating a climate of major despondency.
Overdosing on bad news if not stemmed can lead to a soft break-up of national morale. Already, there is an addiction to negativity.
The grievance over governance makes the show of democracy look like a luxury akin to sustaining a white elephant.
Who suffers? And who pays the price?
Non-gossip hyped up by the media diverts attention away from matters of misgovernance. By doing so, it serves to protect and perpetuate the status quo.
Too much information has the same numbing role in keeping people ill-informed as too little information. Alexander Pope remarked in 1709 that “a little learning is a dangerous thing.” But over-information is adding a ton of excess baggage onto a nation already overburdened with problems of polarisation.
Access to state-of-the art information technology has not made the human race any wiser than those living a thousand years ago, who did not enjoy similar access to information. Too much focus on the fortunes of the few and too little on the lives of the many has created a destabilising imbalance. Awareness is raised by looking, listening, and learning. It is not developed through incessant talk shows lacking clarity and context.
In the old days, knowledge was acquired through travelling, through exposure to a variety of experiences, through intermingling with wiser heads and through coming into contact with unfamiliar points of view.
The sages of the subcontinent were remarkable for their depth of reflection, along with wisdom and insight, which had a broad appeal and have stood the ultimate test of time. What they lacked in resources they made up by applying their minds with more rigour to the issues of the day and trying to make sense by forging a moral path in the wilderness. Nowadays, with all the resources and training, there is no shortage of ability yet there is a deficit of integrity.
If the ethical dimension is missing, the information age may well fall short of its promise and potential.
The writer is an attorney-at-law and policy analyst based in Washington DC. He is the first Pakistani American member admitted to the US Supreme Court Bar.