Just The Point: When we were all on the same page

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A Winters Express opinion column

By Richard Kleeberg
Special to the Express

I was thinking about the 1960s — the era I grew up in — and I realized how much easier it was for us back then to all be on the same page, because just about all of us watched the same news programs, watched the same television shows, and listened to the same radio programs.

But today we live in a far more fractured time; technology has provided us with an abundance of communication choices and options. On the surface, it should be wonderful that we now have so many choices. But, that same technology has actually separated us, tearing us apart from the once common information sources that used to bind us together.

During the 60s, almost every evening my family watched the nightly national news for a half hour before dinner. Most of my friends watched the nightly news at their homes, too. There were only three choices; CBS with Walter Cronkite, NBC with Huntley & Brinkley, and a distant third choice ABC (who tried more than a dozen news anchors during that decade).

It really didn’t matter which of the three networks your family watched, because all three news shows generally covered the same five or six major events, issues and stories. None chose to use “alternative facts” or to heavily edit the story to mislead or suggest a different meaning or outcome. My friends and I could all discuss the national (and world), news stories the next day, because we’d seen the same facts presented about the same events.

Of course, we often had different reactions about those news events, as to their importance, impact, and how best to respond. But because we had seen the same factual stories, we still remained on the same page.

But today, the extensive variety of news services available provide widely differing perspectives of day-to-day events. Some stations compete for viewers by trying to outdo others by offering more outrageous stories. And, many stations choose not to even cover events that other news organizations present as being of major significance.

After dinner in the 60s, almost every family in town watched television shows together. Again, there were only three choices at any one time, from the three national networks. And when a show was especially popular, it might be watched by 60 to 70 percent of us.

At school on Monday mornings, just about everyone talked about the previous night’s episode of “Bonanza,” and also about which guest we’d liked the most on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” During the week, we might converse about “I Dream of Jeannie,” “Bewitched,” “Star Trek,” and “Rowen & Martin’s Laugh-In,” because so many of us watched these shows.

I remember when “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” was so popular in 1966, that a group of us created a “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” playground game, which most of my sixth grade class played at recess for weeks. We were all on the same page.

But today, with Cable TV, Netflix, HBO, Apple TV, Disney, and dozens of other subscription and streaming options, we have hundreds of stations to choose from. I imagine it is now a rare evening when families in two houses on the same block are both watching the same show.

Back in the 60’s, Radio did have more than a dozen stations available, but there were still only about five AM stations that dominated the airwaves. (Nobody listened to FM radio.) KYA and KFRC played Rock and Roll, KGO and KCBS offered News, and KSFO had the San Francisco Giants ballgames. I can’t remember any other stations that kids or adults listened to then. Yes, we were all on the same page.

Today, of course, the number of radio stations on both AM and FM has rapidly multiplied. Few people listen to the same radio programs. And the most popular news format radio stations now provide entirely differing perspectives on the events of the day, and often don’t even mention the same key events.

We have been divided by technology, and damaged by our wealth of choices. Whether as a City, a State, or a Nation — we no longer hear the same news, see the same programs, or share a common experience watching major events. Our once broadly shared communication connection has been cut into shreds.

We are most certainly not on the same page.

To read more from Richard Kleeberg, visit JustThePoint.com.

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