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Through a Glass, Darkly

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By Bruce Raymond

The story is told, perhaps apocryphally, that when Ted Turner first contemplated the founding of what eventually became CNN, he called in his researchers to tell him whether or not he had happened on a good idea. To a man (and probably a woman), the response was unanimous… it was a terrible idea!

As we all now know, it was an excellent idea, but if that research had been given to a weaker man, CNN might not exist today. Why? Because Ted knew that, as is always the case, research is time-sensitive. Regardless of the importance of an undertaking, or lack thereof, what happened in the ‘good old days’ cannot be relied upon as a harbinger of things to come.

Many writers, George Santayana for example, have warned against the danger of planning future endeavours without first pausing to see what was tried in the past. What successes and failures were derived from other peoples’ efforts?

A backward glance is certainly in order before implementing important decisions, however no matter how thorough the research may be, it represents yesterday, not today, and certainly not tomorrow. I would guess that every undertaking orders up some form of research to help in its decision-making, but enterprises that rely too heavily upon researching the past soon find that they have lost the knack of reading the future.

The program selection process of the broadcasting industry provides a stunning example of what we might call “Researchitis.” Trying to recreate the conditions that led to the creation of yesteryear’s top ten has led to so much banal copycatting that using the word ‘original’ is an affront, much like advertising that Joe’s Pizzeria is “world famous” when it only opened two days ago.

There’ll always be those who will buy Joe’s pizzas and watch banal programming but fortunately, specialty channels and the internet are starting to provide choices and the future of producing for the masses may not be as bleak as it appears.

For the moment, we are required to accept that the viewing public is satisfied with programming that is becoming Dumb and Dumber, goaded on by researchers trying to pinpoint the Holy Grail of the lowest common denominator of human awareness. We know that for this year at any rate, the public’s main interest lies in vampires, super heroes and dead people reactivating themselves. But the viewing public is a fickle beast and soon its appetite for horror will be sated. Then, creative minds and production skills will provide us with something new and exciting and enough of us will love it to make it worth some bean-counter’s while to count us, and then the Dumb and Dumber cycle will start all over again.

I know that I am whistling in the dark. It’s so much easier to point out what was right and wrong about the old ideas than to try to ‘see through a glass, darkly’ at the new. In its proper place, and in the correct dosage, research is helpful. But we must always remember that researchers can only with any certainty, measure the past. The future is and will always remain uncharted territory… thankfully.

© 2015 Bruce Raymond, Used by Permission.