The Breakfast Table

Insular Worlds

Dear Margaret:

Sounds like a fun evening, though it also reminds me of how surprised I am when I shouldn’t be surprised that Washington is such a clubby small town in which the journalists who cover the pols and the pols who are covered by the journalists are all such pals. That is probably why, in a lot of the mail and e-mail we get here, people see DC journalists and DC pols as the same people–celebrities who are both part of the problem. Like all generalizations, that one’s not fair, but it is what lots of people believe.

It’s funny how we all live in our little worlds. Washington is a little world, where everyone thinks what they are doing is what’s important. New York is, of course, the same, though it’s lots of little worlds. The financial people think they’re the center of the world, publishing people think they are, advertising people think they are, doctors do, etc. If you’ve ever given a speech to a trade association and listened to the stuff before you speak, you know that, just as you know that if you’ve ever gone to a Time Inc. retreat.

But the best way to understand that is to listen for acronyms. Acronyms are the life signs, or the conceits, of insular worlds. I remember that when I got involved in the cable industry, there were all these terms of art and all these acronyms and everyone used them, even in meetings with non-cable people, as if everyone should know what they mean. I assume it’s the same in plastics or cars or education.

Which is why the continuing niching of media is so troubling. We are fast becoming a place where we all just go after the news and information we care the most about and ignore the other stuff, which means that as a country we have few common media and awareness experiences. Sure, we need little communities (like a school community, such as Columbine) that make us feel like we belong to something in a meaningful way and where we can have meaningful relationships. But we also depend on some kind of glue that holds us all together and give us all something in common.

In any event, this has been fun.