You know, ‘plethora’ actually means ‘too much,’ not ‘a lot’

Because I didn’t know that until someone told me to look it up. It has nothing to do with anything, but some people only read headlines, and I wanted to share.

So I was talking to a friend the other day, and he was complaining about the lack of clarity of the current Iraq War compared to ’91’s Desert Storm. The point he brought up was that the footage we’re shown now is of such worse quality than the previous one, even though more than a decade has passed and technology has obviously improved.

“Everything I see now is this pixelated digital garbage from people’s cell phones,” he said. “What happened to people filming stuff of quality with quality instead of garbled nonsense?”

He’s right more poetically, as well. The footage isn’t as clear, but neither is the moral situation. Neither is simple reality, even.

Obviously there’s a difference between defending a nation from unprovoked aggression and engaging in a preventative war. No one will argue that, but it’s outside the issue.

And my friend was very young during Desert Storm. Obviously that, too, is in one sense outside the issue. The world always seems happier – and simpler – to children. But in another, it’s quite the same because when you’re a child, you have only one source: your parents.

“What’s going on, Mommy?”

“We’re invading Iraq to stop a bad man.”

And that suffices.

If the evening news is the only thing to watch, the world is clear because it’s as Walter Cronkite says and you don’t hear any different. If you watch only Fox News or MSNBC, the world is clearer than if you watch both because then you have to pick from several versions of truth.

In 1950, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa made a film called “Rashomon.” Someone is killed, those involved report how it happened, and at the end neither those involved nor those of us watching it can be certain what really happened. Had the film confined itself to one person, we’d have had less information, but we’d have “known” more. Sadly, cinema reflects life.

Trust. You can trust one source and know what to think. But when there are a dozen different large sources and innumerable parasitic blogs, vlogs and editorials available, all talking about the same things but disagreeing on basic facts as well as outlook and conclusions – when this is the situation, what clarity can there be?

We can see more of reality than ever before, and that makes it feel much less real. The low entry-cost of news “coverage” today means people have few restraints and broad exposure in the news world. The signal-to-noise ratio has dropped, obviously, but there is more signal than ever before. That’s important.

A cell phone video is no match for a 20-pound camera, but it never was supposed to be. Nor was the blogger ever supposed to replace the journalist, but some have let it. When there’s so much low-quality material easily available, of course things seem worse than ever.

But there are very few people who set out deliberately to deceive. Everyone else is doing their best to tell the truth, yet it comes as quite a shock to hear an Iranian’s legitimate gripes with America. Without YouTube, we mightn’t even hear him, so who can complain it was shot on a $50 webcam and not a $20,000 camera?

There are worse things than confusion, after all. In fact, it’s highly possible things have never been better.

Thankfully we have a lot available to us, and not a plethora.

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