Life is composed of gatekeepers. Both physically and socially there are gatekeepers in all the important areas of life. From the basic to the complex, they protect us, sometimes limit us, but they are always there. From a personal perspective the most obvious is our skin, it forms the gate between all that makes up our physical self and the outside world, serving as the first line of defense against infectious intrusion, as well as maintaining the integrity of bodily sytems. However, the principle is not just individual but also operative in the larger world. The ozone layer acts like a protective skin for the whole earth shielding every living thing within from solar and cosmic radiation, a fundamental gatekeeper for life as we know it.
In most ways having gatekeepers is good as well as necessary. Parents have a natural desire to protect their children from anything harmful before they are capable of dealing with it themselves. Our whole system of morals act as gatekeepers meant to protect us from the baser aspects of ourselves and others. The codification of our morality, the law, seeks to protect us not only individually but as a society from acts that are destructive to the social good.
There are also the gatekeepers of rational decision making. We decide this is good for us, this is not and the gates open or close. As long as those decisions are valid and just, the gatekeeping is good. However, as we move further away from the simple physical and basic moral areas, it becomes easier for gatekeepers to become distorted and controlling, to become destructive rather than truly protective.
All areas of our public life have gatekeepers. This is especially evident this week during the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Security is so tight, one comedic observer, David Barry [registration required], noted, “If you have a tapeworm, they will find it.” This extreme security, along with the controlled entry to the event, limits access. Up until recently, a limited number of sources were the gatekeepers who provided the opinions on how we should view the events going on in the world around us. That was because they controlled the means of disseminating the information. Whoever wrote and distributed the news made the news, or at least colored what we thought about it. These gatekeepers were like a social skin that protected us from what they thought was harmful, preserving the integrity of the system as they saw it. If you agreed with their positions, you saw their gatekeeping as good. If you disagreed, you were mostly out of luck. It was very difficult to get countering opinions heard.
Recently, things have begun to change dramatically. The emergence of alternative and “New Media”, especially through the internet, have greately reduced the effectiveness of the traditional information gatekeepers. This has been noted and trumpheted by numerous sources. Traditional liberalism, which gave way to more radical liberalism in the last 30 years, once controlled amost all of the effective gates of information. Whether newspapers, books, radio, television, or seats of learning, they framed the debate and controlled the context. No longer. Interestingly, it is not because their gates are broken, they are not. Traditional papers such as the New York Times and the three original television networks still strongly control what passes through their gates into the body politic. What has changed is that the social skin now has an uncountable number of new gates, such as Fox News and the burgeoning world of Internet bloggers and aggregators such as The Drudge Report. In addition, these new gates are effectively networked so that the information flow has dramatically broadened with uncountable new tributaries supplimenting and sometimes supplanting the former information flows.
That’s good, right. Yes and no. It has created a new problem, the problem of which gates to trust. Just as many of these new gatekeepers attempt to hold the former gatekeepers to task, for their gates are still the biggest and broadest, we have to ask who will hold the new gatekeepers to task themselves? There are millions of blogs on the Internet and a large portion of them give commentary and news. Caveat emptor definately applies. That is a problem, since most of us barely have time to get through the day much less investigate the legitimacy and reliability of everyone we read. Yet, that is exactly what we have to do, we have to judge the veracity and dependability of those who gatekeep our information. We have to maintain a critical eye and ear. Luke, writing in Acts, said it well almost two thousand years ago when talking about Paul’s mission to the Bereans, to whom he was preaching at the time. “… they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Acts 17:11 So, be a Berean and examine your gatekeepers.