Presence Between Environments

In all these instances we must note particularly one common factor. It is the insertion between man and his environment of a pseudo-environment. To that pseudo environment his behavior is a response. But because it is behavior, the consequences, if they are acts, operate not in the pseudo-environment where the behavior is stimulated, but in the real environment where action eventuates.

I’ve posted from this book earlier, although this quote is much more direct to the major themes of the book. The quick gist of Public Opinion is that not only is the average Joe so completely removed from the reality of the world and how to best act on information taken in, but so are the educated Joes who govern it. The idea Lippman puts forth isn’t merely about access, but that as humans we just don’t have both the desire and the time to fully inform ourselves in a way that would let us govern our way in the world ideally. In addition to time and desire, there is too much mediation between us and our environment: Humans in society are easily misled.

Since the author’s era, predating computers and television, the potential for information access has grown to take on a life of its own. The Godzilla of Communication has awakened up from the depths of the sea, without much in the way of dark clouds or theme music to warn. Despite this, my guess is that Lippman would still support his argument even in today’s digital light of communication technology. For him, the environment of access alters information too much (by way of information change, neglect and augment) in order for it to adequately represent our real environment in any way that we can accurately respond to.

By real I take the author to mean something along the lines of immediate. His approach, coming from a background in journalism, is more practical than anything about the natural of reality. So, considering the size, integration and interactivity of the information access world that has developed in the past half century, it might not be fair to still deem it the pseudo-environment…even if it ever was. This certain world of access in our society has grown to a point of complexity that it allows response – action and behavior – directly within that environment apart from our immediate physical one of a less mediated technology. What lingers, for me, in this quote is the translation of stimulation and behavior between environments. Regardless if we consider one or both environments real or pseudo, reactions to one environment often are valued differently in another.

It is interesting to consider the value differences of behavior between our Internet environment of access and our immediate one of physical presence. Napster challenged this tension in the early days of mass online use, showing how behaviors like ownership and theft were all of a sudden valued differently by some. This is still an issue today, and whether the gap exists because of a change in ideology or the limits of enforcement, it still exists. More recently, with a closer impact on learning, specific communication skills have appreciated over the years as manipulation of online information has increased. Think of those people who you’ve known in daily life who amplify, curate, or rehash information continuously in conversations or through the workings of the neighborhood community. Such people tend either to be gossipers or a bore; yet, online these skills are becoming more valued and easier to utilize, albeit with a fine line between adding meaning to the presentation of information and simply social media ladder climbing.

Throughout Public Opinion, examples such as code of conduct or information responsibility are discussed with respect to the consequences of translating them from one environment to another. Still keeping aside any distinction of real or pseudo, today’s life sees a clash of such examples in how these inner values mind the gap between environments. Online personalities are another hot topic today, moving us closer to the core of the individual person that exists in the overlap between environments. Having distinct presences for distinct environments that value behavior differently is more than just moving from one circle of friends to another. Developing one’s own sense of who you are and what you think to be righttakes a good chunk of a lifetime. A fine line in itself can only guard which ethics and morals need to shift as users now separate their online presence with the offline one.

While there may be no privilege claimed by any environment these days, in that we can call one real and others pseudo, distinction between environments exists. The powerfully persistent to survive Godzilla is not the same Godzilla that is loved as campy and cool. Both are real and both have effects that play out in either of their respective worlds, crossing over into the other. Most people can distinguish the two, and respond accordingly. My daughter is scared of the movie monster. I’m not so worried that she will grow up not being able to distinguish between the Nuclear originated one and the Movie Set originated one, mainly because a giant lizard suit is far enough removed from a set of ethics or the difficult choices of right and wrong. I do worry about her knowing the distinctions of the latter ideas, though; about being able to create information rather than only to echo it. As much as I can love and guide her, to grow up with such overlapping environments has to be very different than to be handed such a world well after adolescence.

The consequences mentioned in the quote are subject to an expanding envelope. Some fall deeper into the world that stretches the unaware imagination, some see clearer through the screen of a Smart Phone. All will do some of both at different times, hopefully deciding more their own difference the further they get.


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