CNN is covering a DVD player that automatically edits DVDs to remove “potentially offensive content”. Apart from the obvious howls, I’m thinking that something different is happening to culture today. People on all kinds of levels are actively filtering the contents of all kinds of media. For some people it’s violence in movies, for others it’s radio and television, and for some of us it’s spam of whatever variety. Caller ID gave people the chance to filter their phone calls.
I don’t look at all kinds of filtering the same way. I can’t, for example, imagine using the ClearPlay DVD player myself, though I use spam filtering and non-destructive email filtering all the time. Filtering is a common coping strategy for dealing with all kinds of aggravations, including the sheer volume of information flows we have to deal with today.
While it’s certainly a coping strategy, I have to wonder what it means that there is so much out there that we feel we have to cope with. The ubiquity of filtering in all its forms suggests that a lot of information sources, intentionally or not, are perceived as hostile by the people receiving them. Spam comes with having an email account, while sex and violence come with movies. (Heck, DVDs won’t even let you skip the ads!) Junk mail comes with getting the mail, and bills of all flavors now include advertising flyers.
I don’t sympathize with the ClearPlay agenda, but I do think it’s worth pausing for a moment to ask why so many people are putting so much effort into filtering away parts of the world they find unpleasant.
Is filtering a cure or a symptom?