Every week I read about another newspaper or magazine that is printing its last issue as more and more of our news moves into the digital age. There seems to be little concern over the future of our news, freedom of the press or the public’s access to information that the government or large corporations might seek to keep off the newswires. I am a bit more skeptical than most and I guess a little less trusting of the government and electronic age in general.
It may seem odd to some that, as I sit here typing away at a blog, the essence of communicating and reporting in the electronic age, that I would voice such concern and skepticism. This is, after all, the electronic age. Information is more widely disseminated and available to people than it has ever been. For the first time in history we are able to sit down at our computers and have a world of information at our fingertips. Youngsters, those who cannot remember a time when computers were not available in every home, school and library in the country, cannot imagine what it must have been like to not have this convenience. Yet as recently as the 1980’s we were still trotting off to libraries to look things up, subscribing to newspapers and watching the evening news on our three measly channels to find out what was going on in the world. We knew exactly whatever those channels and papers chose to tell us.
So, you ask, why with this newfound freedom, in the information age, where data and information abounds, where we are no longer bound by the confines of what three television stations and a handful of newspapers want to tell us, am I so concerned about the future of the press and freedom of that institution? The Constitution does guarantee free exercise of the press, so what’s the problem?
The problem is that it is becoming more easy for the government and those entities that seek to control it to have influence and control over the press. Even as I write this there are powers in the world who would like nothing more than to apply a big fat black censorship marker to everything available on the internet. They would like to block your and my access to any information that they deem potentially harmful, controversial, politically incorrect, inflammatory — in short, that they don’t like. Don’t think that it is only Russia and China who want to censor the internet. If they could get away with it our own government could and would do the same, and little by little may do just that.
When “the press” constitutes thousands of different newspapers, magazines, newsletters, television programs all over the country, it is something that is not readily controlled by a central power, such as our government. It has been known to happen that certain stories presented on the news wire services are pulled and squelched at the request of law enforcement or government agencies, but rarely. What’s more those instances usually were a result of voluntary cooperation with government, not heavy-handed mandatory censorship.
Aside from government heavy-handedness, there are other more insidious threats to an all electronic media. For those of you who are not well-informed, it would behoove you to read about the dangers to electronics of all sorts, even our own electrical grids, ,of electromagnetic pulses, or EMP’s. These are not only a danger presented by the possibility of a high-altitude detonation of a nuclear device, but also can be caused by solar storms. We might have some luck heading off a terrorist or rogue nation wishing to detonate a nuclear device, but the sun is completely and totally beyond the control of anyone, and it isn’t as if this hasn’t happened before. The last one, however, was in 1859 and the only electronics effected were fried telegraph wires. Next time will be a lot harder to recover from.
So what happens to an entire generation of news, history, photography, family history and movies if everything electronic is suddenly wiped clean? That really sounds like an alarmist, rhetorical question about something that is unlikely to ever occur doesn’t it? Well it’s not. Go, access your wonderful electronic resources while ye may and learn for yourselves.
Now, what do you suppose we can do about it? How about print archives? Does the Library of Congress print everything that is published electronically and preserve it for future generations? Maybe they should. As for your family photographs, emailed letters and such, just print the most important keepsake items and put them into a scrapbook. You could even do electronic scrapbooks and print the entire page onto a beautifully colored background paper. Store it away for future generations.
As for Freedom of the Press, if we can keep print newspapers alive, we may be able to preserve some of our freedom. It would be way too easy, once everyone has converted to electronic media, when printed news no longer exists for the censors to start to work under the guise of “freedom” of another sort. What about freedom of religion? Don’t Muslims have the right not to be offended by our existence? What about freedom of expression and association? Don’t gays have the right not to be offended by people who believe in traditional marriage and family? When they start to squelch what you can say in the name of not offending certain minority groups, the end will be near. Watch what happens at the United Nations and foreign treaties for clues as to what is headed our way.