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Learning rites and wrongs

By Harry Throssell - posted Monday, 21 July 2008

It is not uncommon to see young couples walking hand in hand while each chats away separately to other distant folk via the ubiquitous, insistent mobile phone. Hardly seems romantic. On public transport passengers make calls to announce they will be home in a few minutes, perhaps a warning the spouse should get the tea on and pour the drinks. Is it kindness or controlling? It certainly reduces uncertainty, fills spaces.

It is the rare home where there is no television, sometimes one in every room. Many are never switched off during the day, some have mammoth-sized screens virtually impossible to ignore.

A large proportion of the population gazes into computer screens at work or school, then again in study or bedroom at home in the evening and weekend for information, entertainment, to communicate with others known and unknown, near or distant. It is alleged many teenagers are not seen by the family after school because they are communing with the world via Facebook, or whatever, in their own room until they choose to go to bed. Youngsters accessing pornography is a worry to some parents.


This is the New World, the New Word, Holy Writ. The altar of modern life is the electronic gadget: computer at work, school and home, mobile phone in the spaces between, the cinema. Whoever controls the screen controls the world, for good or ill. How better to school the masses in what to think, what to prefer, how to spend their time, their money? How Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin would have welcomed such easy control of their populations’ cerebral processes.

A profound process is going on. Philosophers through the ages have maintained the human needs time and space to reflect on what is happening in the world, what politicians are up to, in the locality, in his or her own life, breathing space to allow unconscious and subconscious ideas to emerge into awareness. To ponder, dream, write and read poems, tales, think-pieces, to stop and smell the roses. But this meditation space is now squeezed almost to oblivion by the many forms of electronic communication pummelling the brain.

No doubt in times to come babies will be born with a phone as part of the ear, a mouse at the end of the arm.

Much of the seductive modern media is tailor-made for propaganda, subtly spreading often unchallenged values in the interests of sections of the community for financial profit or political influence. It is striking that on television there are regular daily bulletins of interest to those with stocks and shares, but only rarely for those in poverty, housing stress, or on long hospital waiting lists.

Inevitably what is posted often enough on these many screens is likely to influence what is the good life, what to think, how to vote, mostly what to buy. An electronic Big Brother, the all-seeing, all-controlling leader of the scarily oppressive “Oceania” in George Orwell’s 1984. Whereas reading requires concentration, television is often background wallpaper 24-7. In comparison those who attend traditional church services make a positive decision to do so but mostly it is a once weekly ritual for an hour or so.

Even old-fashioned readers of newspapers or books find it difficult to resist the pull of the new electronics. Undoubtedly we know through television more about wars and catastrophes in distant parts of Australia and the world than we used to.


The Internet has opened up new opportunities not only for the spread of information alongside government and traditional media sources, but also for conversations across the world. Fortunately there are still some media controllers with a commitment to the ethics of keeping the public informed objectively. This part of the new church has already been very valuable for understanding what is happening in war zones and other trouble spots.

Most forms of modern communication are laced with advertisements, selling goods, which can muddy the waters about the real intentions. SBS Television’s Insight program is interrupted several times to show advertisements, when you would think they would ensure such an important social issues program is devoid of such influences.

The invention of the motor-car changed the world. Initially the petrol engine mounted on four wheels gave those who could afford it greater freedom to travel over much greater distances in shorter time. But now our towns are throttled often to a comatose state by the number of cars, most of them absurdly carrying only one person. Every day the news includes deaths from crashes, frequently involving young people, yet television and other programs not only try to sell more but aim to show what fun it is to drive at excessive speeds and do stunts with the risk of death.

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About the Author

Harry Throssell originally trained in social work in UK, taught at the University of Queensland for a decade in the 1960s and 70s, and since then has worked as a journalist. His blog Journospeak, can be found here.

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