Trivial Pursuits: Why Americans Are Dangerously Ignorant About the World

From the November 2014 Trumpet Print Edition

In a time of growing domestic and world dangers, America is becoming increasingly enamored with the superficial. A look at its entertainment providers indicates where Americans are spending their time.

In 2005, DirecTV had 15.1 million subscribers; today it has over 37.8 million. tv and Internet provider Comcast went from 22 million subscribers in 2002 to 34 million last year. Over the same period, Netflix went from offering streaming services and dvd rental to just over a million subscribers to having 44 million “streaming members.” The 2000 nba Finals drew close to 17.4 viewers; last year’s Finals had 26.3 million. Americans’ appetite for entertainment, popular culture, celebrities and sports is insatiable and still growing.

Compare these statistics to the number of news watchers in America. A 2013 study called Filter Bubbles found that only 4 percent of people are “active news customers,” meaning “someone who read at least 10 substantive news articles and two opinion pieces in a three-month period”—regardless of medium, whether print publication or online source. Not exactly a high standard. Remove the requirement for reading two opinion articles, and the number only climbs to 14 percent.

In 1993, when President Bill Clinton gave the State of the Union address, 67 million people tuned in. Viewership for this annual event has steadily dropped over the years. By 2013, it was about half: only 33.3 million. Meanwhile, voter turnout has also tanked. In 1968, 91.2 percent of registered voters cast their vote—79 million people. In 2012, fewer than 73 million Americans voted, though the number of registered voters had risen to 126 million. That represents a mere 57.5 percent of voter engagement.

Growing numbers of Americans don’t want to face reality and are dangerously ignorant about the world around them. It is not difficult to see why the Bible prophesies that destruction is going to be so sudden for most people (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 5:3). Steeped in the trivialities of this world, they are oblivious to its dangers.