The further apart users are from the gatekeeper of their media, the less influence they have over gatekeeper decisions and the less empathy gatekeepers have in their decisions. This doesn't have to be physical distance, but any that creates "otherness" between you and them.

News outlets have local reporters so that they can lend local context, and are familiar with the history, but also the culture and significance to their audience. They also have local reporters because of the trust it gains them; if the person talks and acts like you, you are more likely to feel a connection with them.

Effects of Distance in Conflict

It used to be that the airforce had to shake the hand of a highly skilled young man and send him far away in a massively complex, extraordinarily expensive machine to get something done. Now, they can shake the joystick on a simple video game, controlling a simplified machine. Inherently, the airforce uses these drones differently than they used to use fighter jets. They talk about what risk they can send the drone into that they wouldn't do with a human, and the maneuvers a drone can make that a human couldn't sustain.

I may be wrong, but I'm convinced that the differences in risk and context allow the airforce to also act less humanely toward targets. They lose context, and care, in how they execute missions. They are another large step away from their actions. I think this results in more hospitals and civilian targets being bombed than would happen if a man had the context and cost associated with the process.

It used to be commonplace for police to "walk their beat", but that has been widely replaced with cruising the neighborhood in weaponized cars. They've become impersonal and protected, with less risk and less context. They don't know my name. They don't know if I belong. And if they do me harm, they won't get an earful when they get off the clock.


This could be combined with a discussion about how good fences make for good neighbors.


It should be a concern that if your media is homogeneous, it might foster discrimination against "otherness". But I think Twitter and the open Internet show that discussion without natural divisions really does increase tension, not diffuse it. One must have an identity in something. You can't be an island, and you can't found yourself on everything.

The Internet provides us with easy access to fools. We can find a strawman for any position.

The Effect

Maybe I am overstating this concept of distance, or my diktat regarding it.

Hot and Cold

Marshall McLuhan introduced the idea of media being on a spectrum of "hot" to "cold", and you can draw likely behaviors and effects from this characterization. It is a measure of how much participation is required by the user to engage with the medium.

Hot media can be more accessible, with an experience that engages the user and does more of the work of understanding content than the user does. It takes more of a user's focus, and less of their attention. Movies, books, pictures, lectures, and radio give you the whole content. Your brain doesn't have to understand what you see or hear before processing it. Like honey or granulated sugar, your body just absorbs it.

Cold media can be lower production efforts, and the user will probably need to know the conventions of the media to engage in it. Television, speech or phone conversations, and cartoons are going to be colder than movies and radio.

Irrelevant and Impolitic Communication Breeds Anger

To me, distance in media is a matter of otherness. We should check our media for context and relevance. We live in the perpetual Age of Information, and we are often exposed to media that is very far from us. Our common gatekeepers are not incentivised nor good at curating for us.

The newspaper, radio, television, and now the Internet have given us less and less relevant information with "more of our focus and less of our attention." So whether an outlet gives us tools to curate for ourselves or only an algorithm, we should actively select (and reject) what we are exposed to.