Hoder Derakhshan: So things have a…lit­tle changed. This is a sum­ma­ry of our change now. 

I’ll give you a few min­utes to see it. It’s very sad. 

It some­times also sum­ma­rizes this shift, the wider shift that I’m talk­ing about, which is the depar­ture from the Enlightenment and its ideals to an era we can com­fort­ably call post-Enlightenment, where briefly…I think the first two lines are the sum­ma­ry of this shift. From text to images, and from rea­son to emo­tions. There’s also anoth­er way to define it that I will lat­er on discuss. 

So. This is why Neil Postman is very impor­tant. Because he talks about a dis­cur­sive shift that has hap­pened since the emer­gence of tele­vi­sion. And his obvi­ous­ly very famous book Amusing Ourselves to Death is again, after almost I think thir­ty years, very impor­tant to read and I encour­age every­body to read it again. It was pub­lished in 1985 when the tele­vi­sion was at its height of pop­u­lar­i­ty and influ­ence, and it was going to cap­ture the whole pub­lic dis­course. Which was very impor­tant and true at the time and this is why this book was cru­cial. But then the Internet sud­den­ly emerged around mid 90s, ear­ly 90s, and it dis­rupt­ed this empire of tele­vi­sion that was being formed. 

So, now that tele­vi­sion has recap­tured that area that the Internet had tak­en from it, I think it’s also impor­tant again to look at his argu­ments, which are basi­cal­ly as the sub­ti­tle sug­gests, the pub­lic dis­course in the age of show busi­ness.” He looks at tele­vi­sion as a dis­course, not just as a medi­um. And I think if you want to under­stand what that means look at Trump as a TV prod­uct who won, using tele­vi­sion with­out spend­ing that much adver­tis­ing mon­ey. He won the elec­tion in the most tele­vised soci­ety in the world, and now he’s con­duct­ing pol­i­tics through tele­vi­sion. This is the most inter­est­ing part. What he did last week, or a few days ago in North Korea, was just a TV show. It was­n’t any­thing sub­stan­tive. He had­n’t signed any agree­ment. He did­n’t reach any agree­ment. It was just a show to por­tray him­self as some­body capa­ble of reach­ing agree­ments with peo­ple whom Obama could­n’t reach an agree­ment. He does the oppo­site stuff of any­thing that Obama has obvi­ous­ly done. 

So that’s what I mean by tele­vi­sion as dis­course, where reli­gion, pol­i­tics, sports, enter­tain­ment, all aspects of our lives are becom­ing not just reflect­ed by tele­vi­sion but they also gain mean­ing from tele­vi­sion. The way many of these dis­cours­es hap­pen is very much like some­thing that tele­vi­sion dic­tates or gives mean­ing to. 

Black and white photo of various people in a subway car.

So, this starts anoth­er dis­cus­sion about the future of news, or the future of jour­nal­ism. What is weird in this pic­ture? Tell me. 

Yes, there are print newspapers—people were read­ing a lot of these print news­pa­pers. There’s also some­thing else. Exactly: hats. And they’ve both dis­ap­peared. But there is a rela­tion­ship between them. Yeah, some some peo­ple still wear them. The same way that some peo­ple still read print news­pa­pers. They’ve lost some­thing, and that’s why they don’t exist any­more. They’ve lost some of their func­tions or rel­e­vance, prob­a­bly both of them. 

Because I think this is the end of the news. Not the end of jour­nal­ism, end of news. And I think the whole dis­cus­sion about busi­ness mod­els, or qual­i­ty, or trust, or ethics are sec­ondary to what is the real prob­lem, which is a cul­tur­al prob­lem and a social problem. 

There are two argu­ments. One is that glob­al­ism is in decline. News was always a glob­al activ­i­ty. It gave the mid­dle class at that time for two cen­turies a kind of glob­al iden­ti­ty, a glob­al­ness. That is in decline as you can see the rise of iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics, the rise of every­thing local—local brew­eries, local prod­ucts, local mar­kets. Localness was not trendy for a long time in the past two cen­turies, after the emer­gence of tele­graph, I think. Which began the whole process of glob­al­iza­tion. So one of the main func­tions is gone, of news. 

The oth­er, which was dra­ma, is also gone. News used to be a very major source of dra­ma in peo­ple’s lives before. And I’m talk­ing about even before cin­e­ma. Before obvi­ous­ly tele­vi­sion. Before satel­lite tele­vi­sions. And, obvi­ous­ly before com­put­er games and Netflix. These have replaced news, to many peo­ple, as the main source of dra­ma and that’s the oth­er func­tion, the sec­ond func­tion that’s sort of gone from news. 

So, the idea of time is dis­en­tan­gled from news, in a way. Because on the one hand you have noti­fi­ca­tions and updates that can be sent to you. At any time. They don’t find any kind of time lim­it any­more. And on the oth­er hand you have very long-form pieces of jour­nal­ism which are not that much tied to time as they used to. For instance, many of these rev­e­la­tions could be pub­lished any­time. They could’ve tak­en years to pro­duce and they could have pub­lished yes­ter­day or they could be pub­lish­ing in a few years. And this is anoth­er aspect of what’s happening. 

So when you bring in the larg­er idea of the post-Enlightenment when it comes to news and jour­nal­ism, we reach anoth­er sum­ma­riza­tion of what it means. This is the era of faith, unfor­tu­nate­ly. And any­thing that’s relat­ed to facts is in decline, includ­ing jour­nal­ism, includ­ing news, includ­ing sci­ence, includ­ing even democ­ra­cy in a way. So, we should­n’t be that much sur­prised, in a way. 

Democracy’s very impor­tant here, because it’s not only a con­se­quence of this process or this depar­ture from the Enlightenment, but also it’s one of the caus­es. Because the decline of democ­ra­cy has led in to this tele­vised show which is some­times called elec­tions” in some countries. 

James Carey, an American schol­ar, is a bril­liant thinker. He was the dean of Columbia Journalism School for a few years. He comes from I think a back­ground of soci­ol­o­gy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions and he’s very smart. He, in this…this is one of the great­est books that has col­lect­ed some of his essays. [James Carey: A Critical Reader] In one of his essays, he defines jour­nal­ism as democ­ra­cy. This is amaz­ing. Because obvi­ous­ly every­body knows that democ­ra­cy and jour­nal­ism help each oth­er, but what he says takes the whole debate to anoth­er lev­el. He says democ­ra­cy is a jour­nal­ism, because they are both about one thing, which is pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion. That’s the def­i­n­i­tion of democ­ra­cy and journalism—two names, he says, for the same con­cept, which is pub­lic conversation. 

So, what is going to hap­pen now with the demise of text, the rise of images, with the demise of rea­son, and the rise of emo­tions? Is there any hope that we can still do or incite pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion, which means we will keep our democ­ra­cies going on we will keep jour­nal­ism going as well? Is there any hope for that? I would say yes but it’s quite limited. 

One path is lit­er­a­ture. So, some of this long-form jour­nal­ism can be actu­al­ly pub­lished as books, as a non­fic­tion lit­er­a­ture. They don’t have to be pub­lished in mag­a­zines or news­pa­pers. And I think actu­al­ly even finan­cial­ly they would be more viable if they are pub­lished that way some­times. So that’s one possibility. 

Another pos­si­bil­i­ty’s cin­e­ma. And I’m not not talk­ing about fic­tion, nec­es­sar­i­ly. Fiction can also be jour­nal­is­tic if it’s based on real issues, if it cre­ates a pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion. And there are exam­ples of films that have man­aged to do that. But I’m more talk­ing about non-fic­tion cin­e­ma, which is doc­u­men­taries. And I don’t think it’s a coin­ci­dence now that there are so many more doc­u­men­tary mak­ers, so much mon­ey that used to be in text and print jour­nal­ism is now gone towards video jour­nal­ism and doc­u­men­taries, and Netflix is grow­ing so rapid­ly, and peo­ple are watch­ing so many doc­u­men­taries on Netflix. How many peo­ple have watched a doc­u­men­tary on Netflix or anoth­er web site in the past week? Wow. That’s impressive. 

So this is exact­ly the equiv­a­lent of you read­ing you know, prob­a­bly a whole issue of The New Yorker. I don’t think peo­ple have time to read that much any­more these days so they put that time into doc­u­men­taries and that’s one of the bright spots now for the future of journalism. 

This is the essay that I pub­lished a cou­ple of weeks ago about what the demise of news and the end of news means, on medi​um​.com if you you’re inter­est­ed to read that in more detail. 

So, some­how most of our prob­lems are con­nect­ed to the idea of the decline of the Enlightenment, which was…I mean if you look back at why the Enlightenment actu­al­ly hap­pened, and how it hap­pened, we would real­ize why we need to revive it now again. This would be the root prob­lem and this would be obvi­ous­ly the root solu­tion for all of these prob­lems. Because the Enlightenment emerged at a time after the Middle Ages where prej­u­dices and reli­gion had stopped the human brain or human mind to think beyond a very lim­it­ed area of thoughts and beliefs. It helped it reach dif­fer­ent futures, dif­fer­ent ter­rains. Obviously some of them were not very pos­i­tive, you know. Some of the stuff that start­ed to hap­pen about the envi­ron­ment at the time, for exam­ple. The idea of the human being cap­tur­ing or con­trol­ling or dom­i­nat­ing any­thing that is around it also came from the Enlightenment in a way. But then the depar­ture from prej­u­dices and reli­gious dog­ma and mytholo­gies is also a con­se­quence of the Enlightenment that we need to look into. 

So, going back to the Web and to the Internet, what we see now is only a small part of a larg­er pic­ture, which is this depar­ture towards enlight­en­ment. And it’s not just the Internet, it’s every­thing mov­ing toward some­thing that is more visu­al and that is more emo­tion­al. And you know, for instance anoth­er top­ic that every­body’s wor­ried about is fake news and dis­in­for­ma­tion. But that is also relat­ed to this idea of post-Enlightenment. And we can’t address this with­out address­ing these two things, because the rea­son this shift is hap­pen­ing, the main rea­son this shift is hap­pen­ing, is obvi­ous­ly inequal­i­ty. Inequality has led into worse edu­ca­tion, worse pub­lic edu­ca­tion sys­tems. It’s led to the col­lapse of the wel­fare state. And obvi­ous­ly that has affect­ed the way peo­ple see ratio­nal­i­ty and rea­son and edu­ca­tion. That’s why we are in such a mess and I don’t think there are many peo­ple who are look­ing at it deeply and rad­i­cal­ly to address these main issues of inequal­i­ty and education.