First published on MediaPost, March 16, 2011

The virtual pages of the TV Board blog are used, from time to time, to define some of the phrases and terms unique or germane to the TV industry.

Rarely, however, are these brief tutorials potentially lifesaving.

Today might be different, as we discuss a phenomenon known as the “normalcy bias.”

To those unfamiliar with the concept, the term “normalcy bias” might describe “the tendency of TV viewers to channel-surf among the same 10 networks on a regular basis.”

This, of course, is a SYMPTOM of the normalcy bias, but not its definition.

In reality, the normalcy bias refers to “a mental state people enter when facing a disaster. It causes people to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster occurring and its possible effects.”

You should look it up yourself, on sites like Wikipedia, which, as most of you know, has been endorsed by “The Office”‘s Michael Scott.

The most concerning symptom of the normalcy bias is that people “…tend to interpret warnings in the most optimistic way possible, seizing on any ambiguities to infer a less serious situation.”

As the unofficial canary in the TV Board coal mine, let me be brief, providing you with as much time as possible today to learn more about the normalcy bias, and its possible existence in your life.

According to graph data buried in yesterday’s Mashable story about the growth of Internet news over print news, over 60% of you still get your news from TV —  roughly double the percentage of those who rely on newspapers, and 50% more than those who get their news from the Internet.

So here’s a thought:

There’s some really bad stuff going on outside of your windows today.  Seriously.  If you’re spending time looking at your TV, especially TV “news,” to get a snapshot of reality, you’ll find several hundred channels of normalcy-bias-inducing content from which to choose.

To see if YOU’RE a victim, put down the remote, and step away from the couch.

Now might be a good time for each of us to be a bit… less optimistic.  Perhaps today we should each take a few minutes to browse the news aisles of those with whom we disagree.

Let’s face it, on many matters, there are 100 million Americans (or more) that disagree with each one of us, perhaps even strongly.  The 100 million on our side of an issue might each serve as a buffer to the normalcy bias that plagues each one of us.  After all, the normalcy bias, especially mixed with catalytic ingredients such as cannabis, or worse, pride, can create a dangerous cocktail, with side effects including cranial thickening, and mid- to long-term blindness.  (Please see the ad in People magazine for full details).

How can we, as a nation of free people, be so divided, while earthquakes and tsunamis change our physical planet, nuclear radiation spews 2 hours away from one of the world’s most populated modern cities, riots erupt in capitals throughout the Middle East, the U.S. dollar approaches second class currency status, and our own government decides it will no longer defend something as time-honored as the institution of marriage?

These things are happening.  Right now.  In our world.

And spare me the vitriol – if your first reaction is to hypothesize that this is all fear-mongering and over-reaction (gee, isn’t that a symptom of… nah, can’t be…), I sincerely ask you to step outside of the here-and-now, and take your mind back to a not-so-long-past year, like 1991.

Would you have believed, then, that the events of today were a mere 20 years off?  In candor, would you have believed that these events could EVER have converged in ANY year of your future?

It’s from the vantage point of yesterday, that we can best diagnose the symptoms of the normalcy bias, today.