It would be easy to analyse and discuss this year, both now and in the future, with the kind of end-of-days rhetoric we’re used to seeing in some of our favourite corners of the internet. Rhetoric about how we’re spiralling head first into climate catastrophe, about how Donald Trump and his presidency is the beginning of the end of Western leadership and values, about how Brexit and the alt-right are going to return us to the racism and misogyny of the past. We’re used to seeing stories like these, whether it be on the news, online, in the papers, or simply on our favourite Instagram pages.
There should be no doubt at all that we live in the era of the ‘Global Village’. This phrase was originally coined by Canadian educator, scholar, and philosopher Marshall McLuhan. The ‘Global Village’ is the concept that the world should be viewed as a single community, in which far reaching distance and isolation have been dramatically reduced by the modern wonders of television, telephone, and crucially the internet. The ‘Global Village’ is a place of cross-community dialogue, a place for people’s plights to be heard, a place of sympathy and togetherness. In 1970, an article in the Saturday Review commented that “there are no boundaries to this global village. All problems will become so intimate as to be one’s own.” This prediction on what the future held reigned true, especially considering our current circumstances. Our world has shrunk thanks to the internet and our modern means of receiving the news.
However, it can also be argued that this idea of the all-encompassing and empowering ‘Global village’ has made us desensitised. The constant 24-hour news cycle largely consists of the same Western stories about what Donald Trump tweeted 5 minutes ago and in what way Brexit will destroy our futures. The immediacy of violent and horrific news stories has also lost its impact in some way, with Psychology Today warning that it’s this nonchalance towards acts of terrorism that’s causing more harm than good.
The Vietnam War may have been deemed the first living-room war in terms of television coverage, but we live in an era now where you don’t just see a war on television. You can google it, see live coverage of it and fully immerse yourself in the inconceivable, whether you chose to or not.
What still needs explaining, then, is why people lose interest in stories. More specifically, we should explain why we care more about stories from Europe and North America, a developed bloc of countries, than stories from places such as Yemen, Myanmar, and Syria. As we are part of the global village, we are still impacted, and have an impact on, the plight of all our fellow inhabitants.
The explanation is simple, but a bitter pill to swallow here in Ireland, or any developed country. People in rich, developed nations care about problems they can identify with. The inhabitants of developed nations find it hard to keep focused on something as distant as millions of Rohingya people fleeing Myanmar due to horrific acts of violence and religious persecution. They struggle to imagine a famine, like the one in Yemen, that is due to be reach its worst point in 100 years. There will be some coverage in traditional news outlets and broadsheets such as the BBC and the Guardian, but usually events in places like South Sudan, Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of Congo will never gain such traction with the general public here in Ireland.
So the explanation lies in how we get our news, and most of the time, it’s from social media. Consider the following: The first thing that we do in the morning is to look at our phones, with research conducted by Business Insider finding that 90% of 18-29 year olds sleep with their phone in or right next to their beds. Social media is generally the first point of call as you scan through the notifications you have collected in the past 8 hours.
Instagram is one of the most popular social media sites for idle browsing. There’s a post of your mate out last night. Scroll again and you’ll see your favourite meme pages and celebrities. Post upon post of celebrity falsehood. But you won’t see the breaking news about the ongoing crisis in Syria. Real life hardship doesn’t fit into the perfect and blemish free images of Instagram.
Other forms of social media fare better, despite the ongoing accusations of platforms such as Twitter and Facebook facilitating hate speech and ‘fake news’. These platforms often seem to perform better in highlighting major world events or catastrophes through ‘newsfeeds’ and ‘moments’. However, upon serious analysis, you really start to see where these news stories stem from and the source is in fact ourselves.
You ‘follow’, ‘friend’, and ‘like’ pages and posts on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. This action in direct correlation to your personal likes and dislikes, telling an algorithm exactly what to show you. If you follow someone from Love Island, you’ll be suffocated with sponsored posts, but you probably won’t see any BBC news if you don’t follow them.
A study by Oxford University found that 84% of our news is obtained from online, corresponding to the fact that we tailor our own media intake and what we see on the apps we spend time on. We can’t blame the mass media for ignoring interest when we simply never had the interest to begin with.
It’s a desensitised world we live in, and only the lucky ones spurn the numbness. The ‘Global Village’ makes the world a little smaller, but that doesn’t matter when we only care about what we deem important here in our corner of the community.