Will There Be a 21st Century Version?
The invasion wasn’t real. The panic was. It occurred on Halloween Eve, when a radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel “The War of the Worlds” was narrated by Orson Welles over the Columbia Broadcasting System. It was on a Sunday evening, so some people were arriving home from church and turned on their radios, or perhaps were just doing their version of “channel surfing”.
Many of those who didn’t hear the introduction thought the alien invasion was real. I learned about it at my aunt’s 100th birthday celebration.
She told us about my grandparents’ ever-present faith and assurance that God would be with them even at the end of the world, coupled with the desire to have all of their family together when it happened. They got into the car to drive the few miles to meet the rest of the family. As they drove, they took notice of their neighbors standing out by the road, pointing to the sky, looking for the signs of the aliens they had heard described on the radio.
This happened across the country. It was a true panic, caused by a misunderstanding of the “truth”.
But that was almost 80 years ago, wasn’t it? Things were different and people didn’t have access to much in the way of news and information.
Fast forward 25 years to 1963. A few weeks after Halloween and we were watching, almost as it happened, the assassination of our president and the days following. No mistake, no misunderstanding, and we had direct access to the context of a tragic historic event. Our despair at what was happening kept us from any feelings of elation at how far communication had brought us, but we were truly able to celebrate when, just a few years later, we watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.
But it was just beginning, wasn’t it?
Fast forward another 25 years. We were learning new concepts and new words such as the “World Wide Web” and the “Internet”. People were interested in what we could do and the information we could find on our computers. We rushed to buy the newest versions, marveling at “windows” that introduced visual depictions, printers that would give us hard copies and scanners that would let us add our own documents and pictures to the mix. We could “upload” and “download” and compare “servers” and “search providers.”
Fast forward another 25 years (more or less) to today.
We have phones that seem to be “smarter” than we are, and millions of apps to help us solve any problem. We can talk to and with each other and share as much of our lives as we please with a stranger across the country or around the world. We have access to science, math, literature, history – enough to fill uncountable libraries – with just a flick or a click or a scroll.
But have we really learned anything in the past 80 years? Can we discern what is real and what isn’t, what is important and what isn’t, what is urgent and what isn’t? Do we scroll through tweets for our news and commentary, risking today’s equivalent of reading about an “alien invasion” and mistaking it for the pressing realities that face us? Do we expect a sound bite or a short video or post to give us the context we need to understand what is going on? Are we too busy to care? Are we that easily mislead?
It’s almost Halloween. How many of us will be pointing to the sky in the coming weeks and months? How many of the rest of us will be demanding the tools we need from our leaders (truth, accuracy, veracity, consistency, empathy, context, statesmanship) so that we can focus, at last, on our best hopes for the coming years?
We don’t want to see a headline like this in our future:
National Crisis Results in Nationwide Panic