Going to Hell in a Handbasket

Marc Lockard



I grew up in the 50's and 60’s, a child of the Greatest Generation.  I remember my parents telling me how much the world had changed since they were my age.   Things just weren't the same as when they grew up. . . more crime,  out of control government, too many regulations, a bad economy, no work for anyone, wars and more wars.    I vividly remember one very hot summer day when I heard the local service station owner saying, “Man it’s so hot.  Look at that sun.  It just keeps getting closer and closer to the earth.  In 20 years the world will be on fire, and we will all burn up!” (I do not believe he was related to Al Gore, but I don't know for certain!)

In the 50's and 60's in Somerville, Texas, where I grew up, the adults subscribed to the local weekly paper, The Somerville Tribune, and some folks had one of the Houston papers delivered by someone in town who had a “paper route.”  If you didn't subscribe to any of the papers, you could pick up a copy every now and then for 5 or 10 cents at the drug store or City Café.  If you didn't have the money for a paper or you just wanted to get the inside scoop on anything, you would go down to Harvey Neutzler's barber shop and catch up on what you had been missing.  Often you only did that when you went in to get that exorbitantly priced 50 cent haircut.

Folks listened to the AM radio station; the closest station was KWHI in Brenham, which mostly played music and did the farm report but would also have news usually at 8 am, noon and 5 pm, usually a 15 minute or less program that focused on really big world issues, none of which I can remember, and the local news.  

Then in the 1950's, television came on the scene.  The closest TV stations were in Houston and Temple.  Folks installed very tall antennas and pointed them toward the station they wanted to watch.  If you changed the channel, you went out and literally twisted the antenna mast to point the antenna toward the city where the station was located that you were trying to watch. 

The Evening News was a 30 minute program at 5:00 pm every night.  You got some local news (Houston or Temple) and some national news.  Walter Cronkite is the first person I actually remember as a newsman.   There were two networks, NBC and CBS; ABC came later.  

So if you were keeping up with all that math, the media outlets had less than an hour a day (after commercials) for their news.  They had to pack into that time what they thought were the biggest and most important issues of the day, and at the time, you could not DVR anything to watch later.  Hell, you were lucky if you could watch it when it was broadcast, especially if you lived in Somerville where TV signals were not reliable.

Newspapers were printed once a day or once a week, and most magazines were printed once a month.  Their editors had an even bigger job trying to select what they thought were the “really important” stories for you to know about. 

To say a limited amount of data was available from around the world was an understatement.  If you heard about anything that happened in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, the Caribbean, the South Pacific, or even California or New York, it was likely history by the day, week, or month the “news” got to you.

Even with this limited access to national and world news, all I heard growing up was how the world was “going to Hell in a hand basket”:  the sun was going to crash into the earth, crime was rampant, life was complicated, and the government was out of control. 

And guess what, their parents who lived through WWI told my parents the same things, and their parents who grew up when Lincoln was assassinated told them the same things.  

Thanks, in large part, to the business that has been my fascination and livelihood for the last 40 years, electronic communications, the world continues to shrink.  Now we know almost instantly when something happens anywhere in the world.

If you Google (None of our parents ever heard of Google, and only a few of us really have a clue about how it works.) “how many news outlets in the world,” Wikipedia will return what they admit is an incomplete list of over 225 news outlets most of which operate 24 X 7 either on the television, the radio, or on the electronic blogs, and in some cases, on all media simultaneously.  Add to the 225 news outlets anyone who has an opinion and computer and enough skills to set up a blog will also provide you with all the news you care to consume.  Let's apply some math on the 225+ that showed up in Wikipedia's incomplete list. 

Assuming each of them has 24 hour news shows, that increases the available news time to fill from 1 hour a day in the 1960's to over 5000 hours a day today, and when you consider that this 5000 hours has to be filled every day of the week, you soon realize that now anything that happens in the world has a more than reasonable opportunity to being brought to you, live and in living color, within minutes or live in living color in your living room, on your computer or on your Smartphone while driving.  Combined with the massive number of hours to fill each day, there is a rush to beat the competition to the airways, so you get to hear and see any news any time within seconds of its happening, but you can be sure it has not been vetted, checked, or verified, and often it is gathered and reported on by young reporters who have limited life experience and who get rewarded for their “scoops” but not necessarily for their accuracy.  My  experience tells me that in the competitive world of news today, breaking the news story is eminently more important to most outlets than accurately reporting the facts of the story.  

Although we are much more aware of what is going on around the world, we are not necessarily better informed.  In fact, Mark Twain once wrote, “If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.”  If that was the feeling in the 1850's, imagine what Mark Twain would say today.

My point in all this is that I suspect the world is a much better place today than it was in the 1850's, the 1950's, and even at the turn of the century way back in 2000.  The fact that we are more informed makes the world a less dangerous place, regardless of what you might see in the media. 

However, if you want to maintain some degree of sanity, you simply cannot get caught up in the minutia of every event. If you do, you will go from being informed to being misinformed and extremely frustrated very quickly.   Keep in mind that not everything being reported is accurate!

My experience has been that the news outlets usually get the big things right: America was attacked by Islamic fundamentalist nut cases in 2001; the Texas Aggies had a phenomenal season of football in 2012; there was a horrible mass murder in Newton, Connecticut; there is a huge controversy over gun control going on in Washington; Barack Obama won re-election in November of 2012; the American consulate in Benghazi was attacked on September 11, 2012; and there is a major uprising in Syria.  But if you take anyone of those issues, follow every story, every opinion, and every blog post or twitter post about it, you will soon be on the verge of thinking, “My God, the world is going to Hell in a hand basket!” and the cycle will be passed on to your kids. 

Break the chain, absorb the news with a degree of skepticism, and apply common sense to what the “worldly” reporters (sometimes some kid with a camera phone) feed to the media outlets. 


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