Perception is Reality

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When I was taking radio broadcasting classes in college, I was taught one thing that has stuck with me, even as I left broadcasting behind.

Perception is Reality.

I think there is a lot of truth to that. We create perceptions in the minds of other people and in their mind, the truth is born. Case in point — when we were taught this, the example we learned was about the noontime show on the college’s radio station. The show was called “Lunchtime Diner” so something like that. Whenever there was not the current radio singles playing, the DJ would be talking with diner noise in the background. The noise was pre-recorded and you could hear people talking, busboys cleaning up tables, forks and knives clinking — you know, diner noise. All prerecorded.

Yet the station would get call after call asking what restaurant the show was live broadcasting from. Listeners wanted to go there and eat while we broadcast this show. All just movie magic with a pre-recorded track playing while a guy talks between songs.

Perception is Reality.

We made a scene in people’s minds with a few simple tools and tricks and people were CONVINCED this restaurant was real.

How can we take this and spin it forward? If we can do this with a stupid pre-recorded track (it looped! If you listened closely, you could hear the same diner patron cough over and over!) then what are professionals in the media doing? What about the professionals in…sports? Entertainment? Politics?

Just pause for a moment and think about things that creep into your Facebook or Twitter feed? On a whim, I went through my Facebook feed and jotted down the headlines I saw from any post or video. Here are the first ones I saw:

“This May Shock You: Hillary Clinton is Fundamentally Honest”

“Pet Hedgehogs Who Are A Little Stuck”

“Kesha blasts body shamers in bikini photo”

“No charges against dog owner in mauling death in CA”

“Ebola meth? Police joke nets at least 1 drug arrest”

Maybe you’ve seen some of these stories. With so many of today’s news stories, they are painting a picture from the get-go. There is so little objective journalism anymore simply because they are roping in the readers with an intentionally provocative headline. The media (social and otherwise) is creating a reality that may or may not be there. 

But, maybe you haven’t seen these stories, either. That’s another aspect of our society that we shouldn’t overlook. We are so segmented. Our television choices (or lack thereof), social media, and altogether media consumption reflects that. When I was a kid, we had 4 TV channels, and one was PBS. We may have also had a couple independent channels that showed primarily syndicated shows (if you don’t know what those are, ask your parents). Either way, when you watched a TV show, you could be sure that most of the kids at school were also watching it, or that half of the office could talk about it around the watercooler. How many people watched the finale of M*A*S*H*? LIke a billion? (Quick research says just under 106 million viewers — WOW.) How many people watch Game of Thrones? A great audience for them is…8.1 million people. Less than 10 percent of the audience, yet it is considered to be a HUGE audience. Maybe that’s not right…how about the biggest audience for a network show? The Big Bang Theory averages….just under 15 million viewers.

We have dozens of TV networks, and even then, video games, social media, and other activities are taking numbers away. We get holed up and contained in our own little social bubbles and are CONVINCED that other people feel the same way.

Perception is Reality.

Let’s say the only thing I watch is ESPN. When I go to work, I’m surprised how many people aren’t as enamored as I am with the University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball team, or how Matt Harvey’s elbow will hold up this season. I have a deep knowledge of all things sports, but my knowledge of housing trends on HGTV, of stock prices from Bloomberg, of political races from any of the news networks…all that knowledge is nothing. Just vapor. I would be totally ignorant of all of that. And most people wouldn’t want it any other way. Don’t put politics in my sports! Don’t inject race relations or music or history into my enjoyment of a 3-4 defense!

The more we segment our society, the deeper those divisions get.

When these things overlap, we as a society literally cannot handle it. Look at the protests in Chicago that shut down the Trump rally. Look at any Trump rally. Just look at any debate on Facebook. When people are confronted with an opinion that doesn’t jibe with their preconceived ideas, they FREAK OUT. Names are thrown about — Communists, Socialist, Liberals, Radicals (and those are the ones I can print in good conscience!) — without even knowing what the names mean and without taking a moment to consider the potential truth in the other’s idea.

Thirty years ago, we all would’ve watched the Republican Debate, because it would have been the ONLY thing on TV. Now, we get the highlights in a 30-second clip we get from our most Conservative friend on Facebook, because we were playing Call of Duty, or were watching House of Cards. We’re more interested in a fictional President than the actual one.

What’s the fix?

I don’t know — but if we continue to let the media paint the candidates one way or another without us actually studying the issues for ourselves, we deserve what we get. If we want to choose our next President, we need to actually decide for ourselves what we want. Do we want pithy soundbites that mean nothing? Or do we want actual change?

Remember — Perception is Reality. A lot of people talk about how one candidate says what he means. Fine. Except he means to win the election without caring if he fulfills anything said in this calendar year. We are the generation that grew up with Google. Act like it and use those computer skills. Find the truth. Get past what the world is telling you through the filters on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Even there, you are shown what is “popular,” not always what is correct or what you might want to see.

It’s what you perceive. Is it accurate? Is it reality?

You decide.

Writing is Writing, Right?

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At age 34, I’ve had three definite careers in my life. Not jobs — had a ton of those, but careers. At the time I was in each one, I thought I would do them for the rest of my life. Obviously, I changed my mind, whether my choice or force.

I started off with the plan of working radio at Olivet Nazarene University in Kankakee, IL, just south of Chicago. The radio station on campus actually has a 35,000 Watt tower, so we reached well into Chicago. I worked there throughout college and a year afterwards. 

Then came newspaper. My wife and I moved to Southern Illinois, the land of few radio stations. I got a job quickly at the local newspaper as the sports editor and toiled there for over six years. Good job, but the pay wasn’t what the family needed and I always wanted to teach, so….

Then I got a degree to teach. Since 2007, I’ve been teaching high school social studies and have loved it. 

All three — definite careers. And now I’ve got a fourth. Writing books. 

But, as I’ve learned, I’ve been writing all along. In some careers, more than others, but the writing has never really stopped. 

When I was in college, learning the broadcasting trade, one of my professors told us that being a broadcaster was “writing in your mind.” He said all good broadcasters are good writers. The writing simply takes place in your mind and then out through your mouth for the audience to hear. 

Obviously, when I worked in newspaper, I wrote. I wrote a lot. Between baseball, football and volleyball stories for the sports pages, feature stories on 93-year-old harness racers and guys that make shelves out of wrought iron and even the occasional news story about taxes and school boards, I was constantly writing.

Even teaching takes writing. A lot like broadcasting, when you are lecturing or preparing lesson plans, there is a lot that takes place “in your mind,” but there is certainly tests and worksheets to write and other parts of the job that take a writer’s touch.

Now that I’m also writing books, it kind of brings it all together. The experience of writing in my mind, so I can prepare the story before I put it on paper — the varied stories I had at the newspaper that have given me a broader perspective on life, and the organization it took in teaching to form it all together.

In each job, writing was essential, but each piece alone wasn’t enough to get my writing career as an author kickstarted. I am thankful for each step along the way and know that without each piece, the stories I tell today would be just a little more empty.