A good metaphor to describe the technology of mass communication is found in the following story.
Picture someone who has never seen their own face and knows very little about what they really look like. All they've got to go on is an imagination of themselves. They find a flat sheet of metal and decide to polish it until it becomes a mirror. Their early success in this slowly allows a gradually visible reflection to be revealed. The blurred picture, at first, can be imagined to be more favourable than the reality it depicts. The lacking detail is filled in by this person's already existing self image, in other words what should be as opposed to what is.
However, the longer and more scrupulously the metal is attended to, a more accurate picture becomes apparent over time. Eventually a reflection is seen which can be described as "warts and all". At this point the polisher might stop and look at this reflection with a certain amount of horror. Do they really want to see more or can they improve upon the reality of their own face instead, making the truth more as it should be? As they thought it was, back in the days of those blurred first images.
As a child there was always, for me, a disconnect between the world depicted in the media and that which I saw all around me. The TV and Radio were studiously politically correct and there was always a sense that crime never went unpunished. Most people spoke correctly and regional accents seemed like nothing more than a kind of novelty trick denoting someone who we could reliably describe as 'a bit of a character'.
I still remember the shock of hearing people on the radio who sounded authentic to me. It was during a phone in show* and I couldn't believe it at first. Initially I thought it was some sort of citizen band (or C.B.) radio channel that I'd picked up by accident on my AM receiver.
Nowadays it's less unusual for "real" people to be featured on both the television and radio. Reality TV and 'sensational' documentaries such as "Gypsie Wedding" make for good viewing figures in 2012. However it is still worth remembering the way in which all of this started. The confusion amongst the chattering classes as "nobodies" became stars. The "experiemental" nature of the original Big Brother TV show. All of this walks hand in hand with the internet which now is capable of making people famous without the sprinkle of stardust given by TV or Radio.
Every time I see a story in the papers about someone who is being shown on video acting in a manner which is contrary to how we think things should be I always think of my little metaphor. As camera phones become ubiquitous and the internet continues to grow I suspect our polishing of the mirror provided by modern technology has gotten to the stage where humanity is being revealed in it, "warts and all". I do hope the inevitable grooming process which follows is not too violent.
References: 'There's black people, then there's n*****s': Teenage girls forced to drop out of school after posting racist rant online
*Scottie McClue, Red Rose Radio. Legend.