Since his playing days, legendary Yankee catcher Yogi Berra has been famous for his curiously worded statements. My favorite Yogism is probably an apocryphal one about a popular restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore – it’s too crowded.” It is unintentionally wise and revealing. I imagine he meant to say that he and his friends used to go to that place – wherever it was – but at a certain point, it became so popular and crowded that they stopped visiting it.
We all are, in a sense, like Yogi Berra. When we say “nobody” or “everybody,” we usually mean “the people I know.” We live in our own small world and we know there is much more beyond the boundaries of our houses and offices, but we tend to forget it and judge the universe based on our own personal experiences.
After President Richard Nixon was elected by a landslide in 1972, film critic Pauline Kael, referring to Nixon’s voters, said: “I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know.” Nixon had won 60.7 percent of the popular vote, carrying 49 states. Well, “they” were everywhere, even if Kael didn’t know them.
One of the functions of the media is to put us in contact with the reality that lies beyond the realm of our daily lives. They are supposed to show us the people who voted for the guy we didn’t like. And in a perfect world, the media would help us understand why the voter made his or her choice.
Twenty-one years ago, when Pope St. John Paul II visited Cuba, I went to a kiosk in Midtown Manhattan where you could get papers from several countries. I wanted to see how they had covered the story.
Nowadays you can do that with just a few clicks of your mouse, or can you? When you visit the websites of the main papers in Europe, you are automatically redirected to their “America’s edition” page. There, the paper shows you the news it thinks you need to know, but it is harder to find out what you may want to know when you read Britain’s The Guardian or Spain’s El País – what the people in London or Madrid are reading that day.
Facebook and other social media sites have the same effect on us – we are almost exclusively exposed to news determined by an algorithm that pretends to be our friend. And our world becomes smaller and more enclosed than ever.
The same happened before, on a much bigger scale – with television. The days of Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in America, are over. It is not that the people who read the news today are necessarily less honorable than old Cronkite was, they just have a different goal. Cronkite wanted to reach all Americans at a time when you had only three national networks. With the advent of cable news, the American populace became divided into segments – each one with its own cable channel. Cable news gives us the news we want to see. It manipulates reality according to our taste.
We all live in Yogi Berra’s version of the world now. We do think that “nobody goes there anymore because it is too crowded.” And we still don’t realize that 90 percent of this game of life “is half mental,” like Yogi said about baseball – and that we really need to just open up our minds if we want to understand the world that lies beyond our front yard.