Our society has lost its ability to listen, reason and relate. Thousands of times per day, we are bombarded by messages and images. So much so that we have fooled ourselves into believing we are unaffected and immune. Worldviews have become fragmented. We have collapsed our view of reality into a tiny portal though which we attempt to make decisions. In doing so, we have lost our frame of reference in which to make sound judgments. If we are not careful, we unwittingly allow someone else to do our thinking for us.

A sound bite is a short clip of speech or music extracted from a longer piece of audio. It is often used to promote or exemplify the full length piece. Before the actual term “sound bite” had been coined, Mark Twain described the concept as “a minimum of sound to a maximum of sense.” As the context of what is being said is missing, the insertion of sound bites into news broadcasts or documentaries is open to manipulation and thus requires a very high degree of journalistic ethics. Politicians of the new generation are carefully coached by their spin doctors to produce on-demand sound bites which are clear and to the point. (Taken from Wikipedia)

The 6-word headline, the 140 character ‘Tweet’, the 30 second ‘news’ report, the 2 minutes of commercials, the email subject line, and the emotionally charged image have blurred reality and made truth illusive. There are 16 minutes of commercials for every hour of television programming. During the 2 minutes of commercials, we are bombarded with approximately 9 ads conveying various messages. According to Nielsen, the average American watches approximately 5 hours of television every day. The average American is being hit with 360 messages per day from television alone. I don’t think it is necessary to discuss the internet here. You get my point.

One could argue that the sound bite has destroyed context and the media we consume defines truth. However, that is not a true statement. The fact is context remains but we choose to ignore it by taking the intellectual path of least resistance and allowing the sound bite to be the only context. Truth remains but we choose to suspend reason and allow someone else to define truth on a relative basis. We then build a narrative around the sound bite to provide meaning. When we allow someone to think for us, we are slaves.

Two sound bites that have had huge ramifications (In the spirit of an election year):

  • “Read my lips, no new taxes.” – George H. W. Bush
  • “You didn’t build that.” – Barak Obama

So what?

  • Know what you are consuming. I like to read the label before I eat something or take a medication. The same goes with the media you choose to consume.
  • Use a filter. I rarely just turn on the TV and start watching random programming. I usually decide what I’m going to watch before I turn on the TV. BTW, I watch very little TV.
  • Research the message. When I see or hear a sound bite that creates an emotional response, I search for the context.
  • Read rather than watch. Watching media is a passive exercise. Reading is active and intentional.

We can regain our ability to listen, reason and relate. But, we must be intentional about it. Turing away from media and sound bites that entice us is not easy.  However, it is noble endeavor.  I believe God blessed each of us with reason and discernment.  Let’s use those gifts!

Have you ever been ‘sound bitten’?