A great historian once told me that she enjoys her job because she “likes to read other peoples’ mail.” As a dedicated scholar of history in the midst of writing an honors thesis, I couldn’t agree more. There is no greater anticipation than carefully opening a crinkly, yellowed envelope bearing someone else’s name. As a student, curiosity (especially that of the intellectual type) is my job. As an American, however, it’s my obsession.
We are indeed a culture of snoops. Dynamic media outlets, a booming social networking sector and a plethora of gossip magazines and Web sites fill our daily addiction to knowing the personal details of other peoples’ lives. As college students, we have learned to be adept Facebook stalkers. As teenagers (mostly us girls) we spent hours poring over magazines. We died to know what Mischa Barton wore to go grocery shopping, Drew Barrymore’s preferred brand of chapstick and whether any given member of our preferred boy band preferred boxers to briefs.
Our curiosity has in many ways been beneficial. It broke the Watergate scandal, revealed too much information about Clinton’s definitions of “sexual relations” and just recently sent packing Illinois’ former governor Rod Blagojevich. Curiosity alerted us to the drug, alcohol and various mental afflictions of our favorite Hollywood stars, and it more importantly made us aware of the genocide in Sudan and hunger in Niger. I am sure that those in the spotlight have somewhat of a love-hate relationship with the ever-probing eyes of the media. It both perpetuates and regulates their success.
Recently, my curiosity has been especially piqued by the new White House administration. I don’t just want to know what they are doing politically; I want to know what time President Obama wakes up in the morning, whether he uses a Mac or a PC computer and how he has changed the Oval Office dress code. Even as I am mesmerized by irrelevant, mundane details, I know that I should instead be researching how he will make the economic stimulus bill more effective and budget-friendly and the details of the new equal pay law. The media, biased or not, will hand this all to me on a plate. While I detest the way in which they are able to manipulate our impressions and tempt that more scandal-loving side of our personalities, a recent article made me reconsider their essential presence in our nation.
Obama has prided himself on being a technologically up-to-date, president. One of his plans is to transform the way in which we receive updates from our nation’s capital. Obama wants to take the concept of “fireside chats” to the 21st century by posting updates via a video on YouTube. Sounds great, right? It’s a nice concept, but it should not satisfy our incessantly-curious selves. The operation will be run out of the DNC headquarters by party leaders: definitely nowhere close to “neutral” territory. This new initiative attempts to completely bypass our dearest friend-enemies: the mainstream media. The ever-snooping journalist works for the American people in a big way, and we should not overlook the political importance of their presence.
As much as we may hate to admit it, we need the media, and we need our curiosity. Obama brings a lot of hype and even some hip, but it’s essential that we, as a nation, remain curious, even if just selectively (does Obama’s morning schedule really need to be on front page of national news?). As crazy as it sounds, I don’t want Obama to tell me about how well an education program in some city worked for a school. I want a reporter to go to that city and school, ask people about it, and tell me what he or she saw there that made a program effective.
Just as it is my academic duty to read other people’s mail, it’s kind of our nation’s civic responsibility to stay curious!