Balloon Boy and Us

I was on the highway last Thursday during the time the Colorado drama of the runaway balloon took place.  I was listening to the radio, as I usually do, and it was really interesting hearing the drama unfold.

When I was growing up, such a thing might well have happened, but at most, we would have heard about it on the evening news, or possibly on the top of the hour five-minute radio newscast.  These days, with the very competitive 24 hour news channels and all sorts of radio news available, the balloon on the loose became instant news.

Remarkably, experts were enlisted within minutes – both those located by the show producers and those who called in and self-identified.  Based mainly on video from helicopters in the area, the program hosts, anchors, and these experts speculated non-stop for an hour or more as the balloon drifted, and then slowly came to rest back on earth.

We were lead to believe there was a six year-old boy on board.  Our concern for human life – especially children (they are, after all, the future) is what made this a compelling story.  Otherwise it was just helium and Mylar, and nobody cares about that.

When the balloon landed and no child was found, we were chilled by the possible explanations: 1. He fell to his death, or, 2. He was never there in the first place.  Fortunately, it was #2, and he was fine.  Fine, that is, unless you consider living in that particular family to be less than optimal for a six year-old kid.

As I write this, we know that the police are considering the whole thing a hoax, possibly perpetrated to secure a reality show for the family, which had apparently been trying to sell an idea to a producer prior to the balloon adventure.

Ironically, this hoax was no less or more real than most reality shows.  The only difference this time was that the TV stations who were hyping the story weren’t in on the ruse.  Instead of TV networks playing us for suckers, THEY were played for suckers by the wacky balloon people.

In retrospect we can see that, as with any other breaking news story, 90% of the speculation by the hosts, anchors, and “experts” turned out to be wrong.  All of us had our sympathy and love of humanity used against us, and instead of having our caring natures reinforced, we are now all a little more hardened by this cruel trick.  We’ll be less likely to open our hearts the next time.

If we take a moment to think about it, I’ll bet there are about a thousand lessons for us in what happened last week, having to do with realty shows, news networks, and making judgments based on not enough information.  And as easy as it would be, I’m not going to write something clever about TV news and hot air, but feel free to make up your own joke at home.

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