Where once media was common ground between strangers (what TV shows do you watch, what books do you read, what websites do you like) the abundance of media choice has made this topic treacherous - expect to end up explaining your favorite thing the other person has never heard of the next time you try to connect with someone on that level. Each person is consuming his or her own little diet of media. This offers a new paradigm for strangers: with fewer points of perceived common interest, a conversation is forced into a more human level. Instead of “Do you watch Lost?” or “What do you think about Louis CK?” we might ask more human level questions, such as “What makes you happy?”
Media is filtered. We know that. But think about the filter in this way: Are we clever enough to decode a stranger by their reactions to possibly shared experience of something somebody else made?
“A few years ago I sat on a plane next to a kid who’d been to Bosnia and Afghanistan and was on his way back for his third tour in Iraq—he was maybe twenty-two or twenty-three years old. He told me he’d seen and done things that nobody his age should have seen or done, had lost a lot of friends, etc. And you could see it in him—he was nervous and twitchy and tormented. I was teaching undergrads at that time and he was basically their age, so it was striking to see this sweet young guy, with no previous (pre-military) knowledge of the larger world, who had now acquired something that would stay with him the rest of his life: shame, rage, a dawning realization that he’d been robbed of something, i.e., the calmer, saner life he might have led, in which things like love and contentedness would have come more easily for him—and to contrast that with the lives being led by his contemporaries back on campus. What was the difference? In this case, class. He came from a place where the military was a solidly good choice for him. He seemed like a contemporary version of the wedding guest in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”—compelled to talk, over and over, about what had happened to him. But his monologue also had this stilted, reality-show confession-booth quality to it—he seemed intent on presenting his story in a certain way: dramatic, macho, rife with clichés. He seemed to be lacking, in other words, the narrative mode/language with which he could start working through the shit that had happened to him, and was trying to sort it all out using some combination of FoxSpeak + MTVSpeak. Which was also, in a complicated way, an effect of social class. So it was a kind of double whammy.”—George Saunders, discussing his new story in the Summer Fiction issue of the New Yorker.