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"Americans are Tuning Out the World"

Collated by Paul Quek

Latest Revision: 3 February 2008

From "Personal Log" -- Paul's Free Blog @ (paul-quek)

(This post was made originally on  the morning of 1 December 2005, at about 8.00 am.)

Personal Log, Earth Date 1-12-2005 0800GH ...

    After finishing each morning's ablutions, I would sometimes "flicked" through (as in a few nano-seconds per page) the paper-based local broadsheet The Straits Times.

    This morning I came across an article by Alkman Granitsas, entitled "Americans tuning out the world", in which it was concluded that Americans "show little interest in things foreign, including news and travel", thus resulting in "deepening isolation".

    Naturally, I ditched the dirtying-and-smelling-up-the-fingers paper-based newspaper, and opted to read an online version of the same article ... but first I had to Google for the article on the Net, with the search key (aka keywords) "Americans tuning out the world".

    As I have come to expect, the article was readily available on the Internet ('Net), such as from the YaleGlobal Online website:

"Americans are Tuning Out the World" )

    Hmm ... after having lived in New York City (NYC) once last year, from late September 2004 to early December 2004, followed by another time this year (from mid-January 2005 to early March 2005) -- i.e., for about two months each time -- I can readily understand why this situation exists. After all, while I was there in NYC, the rest of the world might as well not exist! Somehow, once you are in America, the rest of the world doesn't matter!

    Isn't that strange?

    Or, should that rhetorical question be, "Isn't that wonderful?"


    Anyway, here are excerpts from said article which, naturally, I thoroughly enjoyed reading as I can readily empathise and identify with:

  1. For all the talk about a global village, there are actually two communities in the world today: Americans and everyone else.

  2. Why are Americans progressively tuning out the rest of the world? The reason is twofold. But both confirm the cherished belief of most Americans: that their country is a "shining city on the hill." And the rest of the world has relatively little to offer.

        Consider first, that for the past 45 years, Americans have witnessed a massive immigration boom. Since 1960, more than 20 million immigrants have come to the United States – the greatest influx of newcomers in the last hundred years, surpassing even the wave of immigrants that arrived in the first three decades of the 20th Century. Two-thirds of these newcomers – more than 15 million – have come in just the past 25 years.


        With the whole world apparently trying to get to America, the average American can only ask: why look to the rest of the world? After all, why would everyone try to come here if there was anything worthwhile over there? It is telling that according to a 2002 National Geographic survey, 30 percent of Americans believed the population of America to be between 1 and 2 billion people. For most Americans, it must seem like everyone is rushing the fences these days.

  3. The second reason is that for much of the last two decades most (but not all) Americans have seen their economic well-being grow relative to the rest of the world. Through much of the 1990s, American consumer confidence and real disposable income have risen at their fastest levels since the relatively golden age of US economic growth of the 1960s. These have been matched by perceptions of increased wealth from a stock market rally that, with interruptions, lasted from the early 1980s until three years ago.

        Why should that matter? Because since the days of ancient Rome, it is an axiom of political science that economic well-being dulls the appetite of citizens to participate in civil affairs. It is something that de Tocqueville observed more than a hundred years ago:

    "There is, indeed, a most dangerous passage in the history of a democratic people," de Tocqueville observed. "When the taste for physical gratifications among them has grown more rapidly than their education and their experience of free institutions ... the discharge of political duties appears to them to be a troublesome impediment which diverts them from their occupations and business."

    The author of the article was interested in the foreign-policy aspects of this trend but, of course, there are economic ramifications as well since the US is the current economic growth engine of the world and looks likely to remain so in the foreseeable future, despite challenges from potential economic rivals (such as the European Community and economic sleeping giants, China and India).

    Actually, Americans aren't just tuning out of the world or world news. They are tuning out of news in general, particularly the less well-educated strata of American society. The following observation was made in the October 31, 2006 edition of the UK's Financial Times ("Too many people are tuning out of the news", by Richard Lambert) :


A few decades ago, you could hardly avoid exposure to the network news or the daily paper. Today, you can find a myriad of other forms of entertainment. There is already evidence that Americans with relatively modest educational attainments are simply tuning out of the news altogether. A quarter of all Americans with a high school education or less take in no news of any kind – online or otherwise – on a typical day.

In an effort to catch their attention, news publishers are becoming more partisan and more strident. The Iraq war has not been a triumph for judicious journalism. The early stages were presented as a cross between July 4 and Halloween with flags fluttering, martial music, and no unpleasant images of mayhem and death to disturb the viewer. Some senior reporters were compromised by their unwillingness to challenge the White House line.

In today’s competitive environment, what commercial interest would a news publisher have in seeking to interest a poorly educated and uninterested person in what is happening in the world? And will market forces, left to themselves, be enough to support that vital component of democracy – an informed citizenry?

    All these are old news in today's Internet-paced world. As far back as 2002, the Boston Globe carried a report by Mark Jurkowitz, entitled "Survey finds Americans tuning out world news" in its June 10, 2002 edition.


For the second time in three weeks, a major media survey has found that Americans' news habits have not been fundamentally changed by the traumatic events of Sept. 11 [bombing and collapse of the NYC's World Trade Center / Twin Towers, in September 11, 2001].

On the heels of a Project for Excellence in Journalism study that revealed that network news was returning to a pre-Sept. 11 diet of softer content, a new Pew Research Center survey reports that the terror attacks and the war in Afghanistan have not significantly whetted the public's appetite for news.

    Which are all very interesting, of course ...

    In any case, what I find even more interesting is that I find myself tuning out of the news almost entirely, and I am living in Singapore, so what gives?

    Tired of state propanganda, especially overly-positively-slanted "news"? Most definitely so!

    Informaton overload? Don't think so -- I like to watch the occasional news item on the CNN, CNBC and BBC cable channels, though I prefer the less "newsy", older (a few months or years) documentaries on the History Channel, Discovery Channel and National Geographic Channel.

    Or, maybe I am just simply being blasé, due perhaps to a surfeit of, or an over-exposure to, what are referred to as "news"?

    Nah, frankly ... although it's another story altogether ... I am simply simplifying (haha!) my life -- a la Thoreau of "Walden Pond" (check this out: Walden: 150th Anniversary Illustrated Edition of the American Classic) ... or the more modern version known as "downscaling" (read Dave and Kathy Babbitt's 1993 book, Downscaling: Simplify and Enrich Your Lifestyle) or, more accurately, "downshifting" (Amy Saltzman's 1991 book, Downshifting: Reinventing Success on a Slower Track).


    Here are some excerpts from these two books of the early Nineties (i.e., 1990's) of the previous century:

Downscaling (1993)
  • What happens when the Great American Dream turns into ... the Great American Scream?

  • American families are screaming for relief from the treadmill of work, bills, running from one activity to the next, and becoming more and more unsatisfied in the process.

  • Aren't you starting to realize that what should make life worth living -- a close relationship with God, family, and friends -- is being smothered by an avalanche of details?

  • Americans are finding that a lifestyle of consumption is not worth the cost. They dread the maze of meaningless commitments, suffocating memories, and unfulfilled dreams that sums up their existence. They can no longer stand to be bogged down with clutter in their homes and in their lives that forces them to function in a continual state of stress. Many have even opted for apathy in order to deaden the overwhelming sense of confusion and pain of unrealistic demands and unmet expectations.
        ... We have become a people encumbered by unnecessary weights threatening to strangle even those rare occasions of happiness. Many of us are fed up with trying to have it all. We have accumulated a warehouse of things and lost our familites in the process. The masquerade of the pursuit of money, power, and prestige is being stripped of its facade, revealing emptiness and frustration. The quest for materialism has diminshed the average family's closeness, values, and sense of satisfaction. More and more Americans are deciding that this frenzied existence isn't worth the sacrifice made on behalf of a fruitless dream.

  • ... We live in a constant state of worry, always trying to "see how we are doing" in comparison to others. We latch on to fame, power, or possessions to try to end our inner dissatisfaction.

Downshifting (1991)
  • ... The image of the super-successful fast-tracker who manages to "do it all" has always been hard to resist. It offers an appealing challenge: mastery over modern-day madness, total control, perfection. It's no wonder that without any obvious alternatives, and with so little time to reflect on where our hectic lives are taking us, we prepare ourselves each day to tackle the same increasingly empty role.

  • In the 1980s, professionals embraced the notion of a fast track as the surest path to success. Today, setting the pace for the 1990s is a new breed of career trendsetters: downshifters, who are taking control of their careers rather than allowing their careers to control them. These professionals are not dropouts. They are not giving up the intellectual, emotional and financial rewards of professional success. Instead, they are learning to place limits on their careers in order to devote more time to their families, communities and their own needs beyond work.

  • ... While the fast track and its accompanying imagery of career achievement still has its appeal, there is a pervasive feeling that we have drastically overemphasized its importance; that as individuals and as a society we need to reinvent our notion of success.
        Among the many telling indicators of this trend in recent years has been the apparent willingness of professionals to slow down their career advancement in order to spend more time with their families. ...

  • Although many admitted that their incomes had far outpaced their "needs", they typically spoke of being "trapped" by the lifestyles that their big raises and bonuses had bought them. "The more successful we were, the more money it seemed we needed just to stay on top of the mortgage payments and maintain our expensive offices", recalls family therapist and writer Claudia Bepko, who with her partner Jo-Ann Krestan recently moved from an affluent New Jersey suburb to set up a practice in Brunswick, Maine. The two women opted to make a shift in their careers and lifestyles when they found their professional victories overwhelming their personal needs. "It was hard to see the point of being successful if all it gave us was more work and less time to do the things we really want to do", says Bepko.

  • "Disillusioned by the greedy, high-pressure Reagan years in which yuppie go-getters pursued success at all costs, Saltzman, an editor at U.S. News and World Report , hails the quiet rebellion of "downshifters" in a timely, perceptive report. While some professionals who came to feel trapped by their own achievements escaped by dropping out of the rat race altogether, the author singles out 20 men and women--journalists, doctors, lawyers, academics, salespeople--who have changed both goals and pace to achieve a better-balanced life. Some opted to move down a few steps on the professional ladder or to forgo a promotion that would involve increased stress. Most, she states, including those who became self-employed or relocated to a less hectic environment, claim to value challenges of their own making over rewards for conventional labor--along with the allure of flexible time." -- from Publishers Weekly

    Fascinating, what?

    Anyway ... Halleluyah (Praise the LORD / Praise YAHWEH)!


-- Paul Quek
    b: -- this blog!

Originally posted on: 1 December 2005
Revised on: 3 February 2008


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