Will Utopia Kill the News?

As dis/misinformation ravage our media landscape, how might a future filled with digital transformation affect this?
words – laura hamilton
location – edinburgh, united kingdom

While disinformation is not a new phenomenon, it has certainly been exacerbated and disseminated with alarming speed due to the onset of digital technologies, specifically social media. And yet, the end goal has always been the same: influencing people. In fact, the entire media landscape now predicates on capturing people’s attention, and that has laid it open to abuse in insidious ways that the general public are often unaware of. It’s almost impossible to tell if you have been influenced or manipulated when much of what you do and say is tracked. Journalists know the content mostly likely to grab your eye, and as media platforms compete for your attention, and make deals with organisations, and even align with politicians or political parties, it’s increasingly hard to say what is truly objective anymore.

Journalists are human and, as such, are inherently flawed – but they are also operating in a system that has arguably never been wholly about informing the public. Its aim has often been to mould the public – into thinking, voting or consuming a certain way. Money and power is the name of the game behind so many narratives presented. Within a public consistently overwhelmed with divisive but addictive news content, trust in the media has never been so low. And hand in hand with this lack of trust is the inability to discern between what has been written by a journalist vs that from an unknown source, completely unverified. Unsurprisingly, this challenge is worse for the younger generations who have never known a time without social media: only two percent of teenagers, who consume much of their news via platforms such as TikTok, can tell the difference between disinformation and verified news sources.

As the saying goes, a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth has managed to put on its shoes. Underpinning misinformation [news that is false and inaccurate] and disinformation [news that is intended to harm, such as propaganda and hoaxes] is an ever-hungry public, and media organisations that need to pump out more and more content across a wide variety of different platforms. But it doesn’t have to be this way: slow news sources, like weekly and monthly newspapers, are steadily regaining popularity. Within their pages, facts have more time to be checked, and the news is often presented in a manner which doesn’t trigger such knee-jerk emotional responses.

WHEN IT COMES TO THE NEWS – IS LESS NOW MORE?

At a point where the abuse of technology holds the potential to bring about the downfall of our democracies globally, might leaps forward in innovation hold the potential to bring about a utopia and drastically affect our media landscape? One such technology is digital fabrication, and the myriad possibilities it presents. Does it have the potential to discredit and dismantle fake news, alongside our relentless 24-hour news cycle? If mass digital fabrication could undermine the capitalist marketplace, how might that affect how we consume news? Underpinning so much of what we read is the hard sell – but if humans become more self-reliant, this could all change. If the challenge of scarcity of resources [often exaggerated by disinformation] were to be overcome, then perhaps more of our energy and attention could be redirected into the other pressing problems that the world faces, and needs to solve together. This utopia may be a long way off, but it is a possibility.

In Star Trek, where Fully Automated Luxury Communism is explored, society has transcended scarcity. Food comes from a replicator [a sophisticated form of digital fabrication]. People don’t need to work to eat in space, it seems. There is no currency in the Federation, and there also seems to be no news media. Star Trek predicted the ubiquity of the smart phone – the device that the intrepid travellers always carry to communicate with each other and look things up on their intranet – but otherwise, there doesn’t seem to be any form of news bulletin in space.

This, of course, could be an oversight – but it’s an interesting concept. There are no alien broadcasters, no print newspapers, daily bulletins or even online or virtual reality platforms. Did the end of capitalism also bring with it the end of the news media as we know it? In the 19th century, newspapers such as the Guardian were established because of misinformation – specifically the suppression of facts by the political class after the 1819 Peterloo riot over workers’ rights. In the 22nd century and beyond, might it be possible that our media landscape could change so much that it becomes obsolete within a more utopian society?

If everyone’s needs are met – and even most of their wants – journalists may no longer need to hold politicians to account. In a society that has completely rejected consumerism, what need is there for advertorial? Newspapers may not need to be sold, and audience editors are out of a job because engagement doesn’t need to be tracked anymore. If there’s no corruption, will investigative journalists have to retire? If fast fashion ends, what is the need to know this week’s must-have items, clogging up your inbox with newsletters you’ll scroll through half-heartedly? Without climate disaster, or dictatorship, or political scandal, what will correspondents cover? Job design will end unnecessary roles, and without paltry pay, people will be free to do whatever interests them and feeds into their true purpose – and perhaps that will lead to a lessening of need for distraction in the form of the latest celebrity gossip.

On the flip side, it’s also possible that, in the future, fake news becomes such a problem that the media becomes far more protected – and therefore much smaller, more regulated, and slower. This, of course, could cause more problems as it opens the media up to more government interference – and censorship. Currently, we’re already facing the rise of supremist content – particularly from terrorist actors who disseminate misinformation and disinformation on the internet, but also from those who prey on other’s insecurity and spout misogyny and bigotry as the answer to their problems. Like the hydra from Greek mythology, when one head is chopped off, two replace it. Without rapid and unified action from technology platforms, organisations, and governments, this insidious content runs rife and has serious real-life consequences. In short, the media and the news act as a mirror to wider society – and in a utopia, we may not have the need, or appetite, for breaking news at all.

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