There was a time, not long ago, when reports of the unusual were more … unusual. And by that I don’t mean more bizarre, just less frequent. Americans, and people the world over were confronted far less often by stories ranging from the out of the ordinary to the downright hard to believe or outlandish. When a news report or, heck, even a flimsy-but-widely-circulated rumor of something fantastical came along, it stood out. As well such things should.
These days, wild claims tend to be less noteworthy — simply because there are so many more of them widely spread throughout our culture on a 24/7 basis thanks to media of all kinds, but especially online and specifically through social media. Some of these are just odd stories, some consist of slanted disinformation campaigns and others are in the vein of full-fledged “fake news,” often courtesy of Russians we’re told.
Before going any further, this isn’t some grumpy editor’s column bemoaning ways the internet has contributed to the creation and spread of hooey in the guise of useful information, though that’s a worthy enough topic. It’s a column about the decline, reported in various places throughout the year so far, in UFO sightings — and whether that indicates the once hard to believe has gradually become ho-hum. Any number of reasons for the decline in sightings have been suggested, among them that constant assertions of the “far out” variety have impacted the way people react to the potentially out-of-this-world.
There’s more motivation for someone to report — and for others to disseminate information about — events people are interested in, or view as more than just blips because of their unusual nature. If the public hungers for news of sightings, and expresses interest in theories behind them, there’s an audience. If not, well, perhaps sightings of unidentified objects in the sky become humdrum occurrences all around.
There are other theories, of course, many also having to do with changes in how we consume media, and through media judge what is and isn’t real. Some posit that in an age when everyone has a video recording device in their pocket (in the form of a smartphone), the lack of more convincing evidence on sites like YouTube — again, online — has simply convinced many that UFOs must never have existed in the first place. If Fox Mulder’s truth, so to speak, is “out there” — then where’s the proof?
Others simply point out that there have always been cyclical spikes in UFO sighting reports, followed by periods of decline. Groups that log sightings have indeed seen a significant drop since 2014, but whether that trend continues or is simply a longer-than-usual period of decline between spikes remains, appropriately, “unknown.” We’ll see.
We may be better positioned here to gauge general interest in UFOs than just about any place. When one sees the numbers from the UFO Festival, and sees the success of new UFO-themed tourist events like the crash-site tours launched last year, it’s a bit hard to believe that people have simply moved on from this sort of thing.
But it’s not unbelievable at all that the way people consume media today — and the ways many manipulate information, especially on social media — is gradually moving the line for some between what is and isn’t believable, what is and isn’t noteworthy. What happens when the threshold determining what’s outlandish keeps being raised higher? Regardless of whether that has anything to do with a decline in UFO sightings, it’s a question we should all consider.
The information/misinformation onslaught makes it more difficult than ever, but also more important than ever to carefully consider the things we see and hear, apply reason and separate what’s real from bunk. What’s important from what isn’t.
After all, what’s more worrisome than an outlandish, unbelievable (possibly dangerous) event taking place, be it in the skies or elsewhere? Try an outlandish, unbelievable (possibly dangerous) event no one thinks is a big deal.
That’s more frightening than just about anything — even a flying saucer.
John Dilmore is editor of the Roswell Daily Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this column are those of the author.