VOICES: Is everything really the ‘worst ever’

Note from Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson: This opinion piece by Ray Marcano appeared in the Dayton Daily News' Ideas and Voices section on Tuesday, Aug. 11.

Surely I’m the only one who’s noticed we’re being bombarded with content and cues that label things the ‘worst ever.

Take a trip through Twitter (which I rarely do because I want to stay sane) and you’ll see tweets criticizing Dr. Anthony Fauci’s first pitch before the National and Yankees game as among the worst ever.

Then there is the worst ever pizza; the worst ever British Prime Minister; and you can go on and on.

That constant stream of worst ever can also be mean-spirited.

That’s one of the reasons nearly six in 10 Americans believe social media does more to divide than unite the country and also unfairly attacks public officials and corporations, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

So I asked myself, are we really living in the worst ever?

Historians believe James Buchanan and his inability to lead during the Civil War makes him the worst president ever.

We lost an estimated 675,000 Americans during the Spanish flu. We’ll never forget 911. We survived and conquered all of this and much more.

So no, we’re not in the worst ever.

It just seems that way.

 Here’s what Dr. Lee Hannah, Jr. a political scientist at Wright State, told me.

“Social media and the fact that we all have cameras in our hand can definitely distort our perception. In fact, there’s a term that comes from research in 1980s called the ‘mean world syndrome.’ That is, people misperceive the world to be more violent and dangerous than it really is because of exposure to violent media.”

Violent media doesn’t just mean images of violence, like you might see in a slasher flick. It also means the way we speak and interact with each other; how, when we think something is the “worst ever,” we call people stupid idiots (and worse) when we don’t agree.

Hannah added, “So, now we have all of this content from camera phones - and it’s worked both ways. It’s both highlighted social problems that people have always said are there and can now capture on their phone. But, it can also lead you to living in fear.”

And how can fear manifest itself? By the mean-spiritedness we too often see on social platforms.

But instead of just blaming social media, look at your own habits.

Look at the amount of time you spend on social platforms and whether you’ve been mean spirited or even violent in your words (and we’re all guilty of that at one time or another, including me).

My theory: cut back social media consumption and focus on what’s important and right and good in life. All of sudden, things won’t be the worst.

Ray Marcano, a former Dayton Daily News editor, is a media lecturer at Wright State. He’s the former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists, a two-time Pulitzer juror and a Fulbright fellow. He is a frequent contributor to the Dayton Daily News’s Ideas and Voices section.

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