Media isolation is making us less interesting

Andy Frakes

My senior year of high school, (I’m dating myself here, but it doesn’t matter) I got on the waiting list for a Spotify account. I think that was right about the time Pandora was wearing thin with most users; they had just started advertising heavily between songs, and building good “radio stations” was difficult. I naturally hated local radio because I was from a small non-university town, and there was no alternative radio to be had; it was just top-40 garbage, plus some gospel and country hits. Marquette didn’t seem much better in terms of local broadcast, and I needed a way to listen to what I wanted to listen to when I wanted to hear it.

Okay, I’m a music-control fiend.

I was the same way about Netflix as soon as I got my first laptop, the MacBook kindly issued for an enormous surcharge by NMU.

I went through half a dozen dummy email accounts just signing myself up for one-month free trials during my freshman year. My roommate owned the TV we had in our dorm, and I don’t think I ever turned it on once on my own.

So, I’ve never been a fan of broadcast media. I want to skip songs, I want to have playlists, I want to avoid commercial breaks and binge-watch shows rather than wait for next week’s episode to come out. And I despise most radio DJs.

In the process of avoiding the stupid hollering nonsense—car dealership ads and furniture store commercials, Fetty-Wap, that ridiculous 2015 radio ad for the Third Base Bar—I’ve built up almost five years’ worth of insulation from the mainstream.

The result is that my girlfriend makes a reference to a pop song or some other piece of the mainstream media, and it totally goes over my head.

Who’s supposed to be more informed than a journalist-in-training?

We’re meant to be the gatekeepers of such popular culture. We literally make the trends; if the press didn’t pay so much attention to Kanye West or Donald Trump or whatever else is hot stuff right now, it literally wouldn’t matter. The press covers what’s deemed to be of greatest public interest and the public interest, for the most part, follows suit.

Although I’ll gladly recognize my spot on the bottom links of the journalistic food chain, what goes out from campus and local media largely informs the area we’re living in.

Hell, the New York Times doesn’t even deliver to individual residences in Marquette, and who’s really going to pay $8 for a Sunday edition at Valle’s Market? We’re lucky to have our student subscriptions to the New Yorker, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, these tenuous threads to the outside world.

But the point isn’t so much a macro-view of where media is heading, though it all wraps around in some fashion. The point is that there’s less individual assimilation into the mainstream when we hardly dip our toes into those roiling waters.

We get in the car to go somewhere, power on the radio, and flinch at the onslaught of broadcast radio’s ad-heavy, hair-raising pleas for attention. “Pass the auxiliary cord, dude.”

No one listens to the radio anymore because compared to a Spotify premium subscription, it really sucks. And no one watches TV apart from the really compelling stuff (series wrap-ups, special events and so on) because Netflix is always right there, always ready. And if what you want isn’t on Netflix, PutLocker or some other sketch-salad streaming site will fix you right up.

Why pay for cable, let alone Dish or DirectTV? Maybe if it compliments the WiFi package nicely, I suppose, which is why my roommate and I still fork over more than a hundred dollars a month for something I avoid like the plague.

This is all fine and good. We’re allowed to be curators of what we consume rather than being subject to the stupid bobbleheads who take over ESPN whenever a game isn’t on. Music is borrowed from an online library now; TV and film are borrowed from a similar library.

Even the majority of what we read, in terms of periodical and editorial content, is all cached online and search-engine optimized. Why tune into NPR during breakfast if we can dig into written critiques of last night’s “Mad Men” episode, and just stream the NPR podcast later during a commute or a lull during the NFL game?

I also believe in the human tendency to want to be occupied during all waking hours. Let’s not beat a dead horse, but I’ll reiterate real quick: laptops and phones have brought that desire of constant occupation into reality, social media furthering our self-occupation even more.

Do you think Steve McQueen could just read the news at literally any time of day, the way we get out our phones and pull up the Associated Press or Reuters? We have that, and more importantly, we have the opportunity to ignore it.

I’d like to say we aren’t doing anything wrong by building our own little bubbles of media consumption.

I would love to encourage you all to keep listening to Spotify exclusively, watching Netflix exclusively and only reading the articles on news sites with the most adverb-heavy headlines (thank you, BuzzFeed, and by extension, Facebook).

It’s what’s in my nature, personally, and there’s no better way to relax somewhere and feel comfortable than to play music you know, read stuff that makes you feel better and watch your favorite episodes of “Friends” or Gilmore Girls or whatever.

But look, if you ever expect to make it through a job interview or a tense first date, you might have to “get” a joke about stuff you won’t see unless you close your laptop and take out the ear-buds once in awhile. That’s all.