Pull up a chair; it's time we talked about our diets.
No, this is not about pizza, chocolate bars and veggies. It's about media diets, consisting of the likes of Facebook, Fox News, The Oregonian, Nextdoor and even this newspaper — and this column.
Are your media choices making your sick? Are they keeping you awake at night? Are they giving you indigestion? Do they make you fearful?
Suddenly in this "Information Age" we are besieged with "fake news," "alternative facts," disinformation, misinformation, leaks, hacking, robo-posts and info-wars. That's bad enough, but I'm particularly concerned about our "diet" of community news right here in Southwest Portland.
As I was writing this, I was interrupted by a Facebook alert telling me that Mittleman Jewish Community Center had received a bomb threat. The threat turned out to be a hoax, but the ripple effect from a lone, threatening email was understandably unsettling for our community.
At worst, it spread fear. Call this "terrorism by email," if you will.
It triggered a police response and the costs and disruption associated with it. Then there were the resulting nasty back-and-forth exchanges attached to internet "discussions." A few categorized the story as "fake news."
Well, enough of that. Let's return to that "media diet" discussion we were beginning before we were interrupted.
You and I clearly need a quiet place to talk free of media intrusions. Silence is a good place to begin. Breathe.
Let's "fast" together, if only for an hour or two. We could list and share the contents of our daily media diets. Are they balanced? Do we include international perspectives? Do we seek out the views of people we respect but with whom we disagree? How is our media "food" grown? Who grows it and why?
Are civil, heartfelt conversations, silent reflection and critical thinking parts of how we digest? One question I find helpful to ask is, "What parts of your life story shape your views? Tell them to me."Like actual food, messages — including visual messages — become part of me. They can change me for better or worse. The media "food" millions choose from the truly globe-girdling mass (and social) media can determine whether entire cultures, societies and nations are poisoned or prosper.
Communities like our own are equally vulnerable.
Recently I've been trying to nurture a "Sanctuary Circle Walk" around Wilson High School. It's held every Sunday, starting at 3 p.m., and lasts for one hour. The walk symbolizes our support of the education and security of all Wilson students and their families. Walkers gather at the large tree near Wilson's northern entrance off Capitol Highway. The tree is near the "Home of the Trojans" sign on the stadium. (Consider this an invitation to join us.)
Now, you have this information as part of you. In dietary terms, whether you join the walk or not, whether you agree with it or not, it's in you to digest.
Because of stepped-up deportations, I wanted to get news of the walk out quickly and locally. I turned to Nextdoor, the local "bulletin board" site. People increasingly rely on Nextdoor for information, but most of it is pretty bland compared to bomb threats and potential immigration raids.
A dog is lost, a sofa needs a new home, a babysitter is sought. Occasionally, "crime spotting" warnings go out. Someone is stealing UPS or FedEx packages from front porches, etc.
My designated Nextdoor "neighborhood," like all such "neighborhoods," has a volunteer "lead." The lead is left to weigh your message against "guidelines" that were promulgated at Nextdoor headquarters in San Francisco. Hardly next-door.
An event mentioning "sanctuary" tests Nextdoor's editorial "guidelines."
As Nextdoor becomes more important in getting emergency messages out quickly —something this monthly newspaper can't do — I believe a number of people have begun to see Nextdoor as a rapid response of local news dissemination. Therefore, it behooves us to get to know our local "leads" and their take on the "guidelines."
The message I sent out about the Sanctuary Circle Walk was handled differently in different "neighborhoods" and at different times. The lead in my neighborhood at first decided that rather than being a "general post," the walk announcement should be an "event," which gave it lower billing and lower readership. Later in the month, he tentatively changed his mind: the Sanctuary Walk could be a general post and, he added, we'd "see what happens." Nextdoor is clearly a work in progress as it, and we, adjust to our challenging times.
In one neighborhood among the eight I contacted, the lead flat-out killed the walk announcement. He cited Nextdoor guidelines that prohibit "soapboxing" about non-local issues. The topic of sanctuaries, he argued, was a "national" political issue, and hence off limits. I couldn't convince him that this "national issue" affects hundreds, even thousands, locally. I reminded him that Portland itself is a sanctuary city. He was steadfast.
Which raises the question of how censorship affects our local news diet. Clearly in parts of Southwest Portland, fuzzy Nextdoor guidelines mean that certain kinds of "food" won't be available immediately.
Which takes us back to where we began: The "foods" we choose or intrude upon us, and the ways we "digest" them, determine our health and that of our community — and our planet.