Du-Jour-ism: The Cost of Short Term Culture

Listening to the news media parrot politicians’ posturing over the AIG bonuses made me see some disturbing parallels. It seems that the search for A story consistently gets in the way of the search for THE story. Way too many reporters and their editors seem more concerned with getting something on the front page today than on zeroing in on what, in the long run, really matters.

The parallels are with the economic system and politicians. We’ve nearly been done in by CEOs who’ve been more concerned with this quarter’s financial results than with long term stability, growth and profitability. And it seems almost impossible for anyone in congress to think beyond their rant of the moment.

I (though I’m probably not the first) call this tendency to be enthusiastically distracted by the short term du-jour-ism. It has caused collective blindness about the value of long term investments in education, infrastructure and institutions. Where’s the concern about the number of engineers we’ll be producing in 2020? Why aren’t we putting our best minds to work on redesigning financial institutions and regulation (and focusing our spotlights on the importance thereof)? Why does the media allow various players (on both right and left) get away with falling back on their old hobbyhorses (e.g., “It’ll be socialism!!!”) rather than asking hard questions (e.g., “Our education system is not up to the tasks of the 21st century — what are we going to do about it?”)? Where are the reporters saying “Well, yes, but economists have shown that X is irrelevant.”?

It’ll take some brave and strong voices (and intellects) to break out of the cycle of du-jour-ism. Some commentators over the last few days have made some arguments along these lines about AIG, but so far their voices have been largely drowned out by hysteria and posturing.

Why is this about information? Du-jour-ism represents a style of thinking and communicating — one that characterizes informal chit chat, gossip, and mobs of various kinds. It is a style of information behavior that is characterized by a focus on trees rather than forests, inconsequence rather than consequence, personality rather than substance, emotion rather than fact. It is information handling that is driven by delivering what recipients want and expect, what they already think, what is easy to receive and digest rather than what they may find surprising or disturbing or that may require re-evaluating assumptions.

An information order dominated by this sort of information behavior becomes top-heavy with convenient fictions and invites an eventual clobbering by inconvenient facts.

Author: Dan Ryan

I'm currently an Academic Program Director at MinervaProject.com. I've been a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. I'm driven by the desire to figure out how to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

One thought on “Du-Jour-ism: The Cost of Short Term Culture”

  1. In the penultimate paragraph, I think you may be grouping some qualitatively different phenomena together as “*A* style of information behavior” in a way that obfuscates more than illuminates. We’ve both seen/read arguments that the information behavior of media organizations is shaped by structural characteristics like advertiser relations, J-school socialization, circulation composition (daily vs casual readers), etc.–best recent example is coverage of global warming/climate change. Journalistic conventions ‘require’ both sides to be represented in every news story, so reporters at all but the most sophisticted outlets kept going back to the one or two scientists who would give a quote to the effect that it’s not real, and it looked like there were two sides to this story, because there were/are, but what’s lost is that one side has 99% of the people with PhDs and the other has just those one or two people.Commentary is not bound by same conventions–those are commentators, not reporters. It’s all in the title.Chit-chat and gossip are behaviors of individuals that, analytically, MIGHT BE independent of organizational setting and constraint. Whereas if you’re describing behavior of people identified by their JOB titles, by definition they are organizationally imbedded and subject to structural constraints. Off the cuff like this, I might argue that the behavior of individuals, on this microinteractional level, would be more influenced by cultural/cognitive factors, shared norms, etc than the other kinds of behaviors you identified above.Carla Eastis

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