So how do you handle the daily onslaught?
Are you wearing virtual blinders to shield yourself from the barrage of headlines and breaking news? Or are you smarter than me and just know how to look the other way?
I happily deluded myself for years that I dodged lots of bullets by not having children. I didn’t have to see temper tantrums, petty jealousies, and bullying, right? Wrong. Each day, along with you, I witness temper tantrums, petty jealousies, and bullying all from that dude sitting in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I have zero parental experience to deal with this. The only recourse, it seems, is to issue a time-out command… to myself.
But if not a time-out, then perhaps a shrinking of my ingestion of news?
I think Guardian columnist Oliver Burkeman strikes the right tone. He recently penned an excellent essay about how it might benefit all of us if we cut down on the amount of news we each consuming on a daily basis. I thought that actually took a bit of moxie on his part and perhaps the Guardian too for even publishing it. I mean think about it for a moment: Denny’s is never going to suggest to its customers that they should stay home more often and eat healthier meals, right? (I’m sure both Burkeman and the Guardian would be thrilled with my making that comparison). But all the same, let’s give the man some credit here because he’s offering a passage for some of us to calmer waters.
Burkeman’s piece is quite long, so if you do read it I suggest doing so under a blanket and with a mug of hot cocoa. He weaves a convincing narrative that news coverage is no longer merely background noise in our daily lives. Rather, it’s taken on a greater significance within in our activities, interactions, and even how we identify and define ourselves. It becomes the core of the irritation you feel as you read your phone while standing in line at the supermarket. Or at the bank. Or on the subway. We’re constantly following the news because it’s everywhere and now on nearly all devices.
“It’s not simply that we spend too many hours glued to screens. It’s that for some of us, at least, they have altered our way of being in the world such that the news is no longer one aspect of the backdrop to our lives, but the main drama. The way that journalists and television producers have always experienced the news is now the way millions of others experience it, too.”Guardian Newspaper, May 3, 2019.
“It’s easy to assume that the reason you spend so much time thinking about the news is simply that the news is so crazy right now. Yet the news has often been crazy. What it hasn’t been is ubiquitous: from its earliest beginnings, until a few decades ago, almost by definition, the news was a dispatch from elsewhere, a world you visited briefly before returning to your own. For centuries, it was accessible only to a small elite; even in the era of mass media, news rarely occupied more than an hour a day of an educated citizen’s attention.”
For me this resonates because it’s how I’ve lived much of my life. I started becoming a news hound during my early adolecence. I can remember sitting on the couch with my dad and watching two and even three of the Sunday morning interview shows, and also the evening network news after each dinner. My family subscribed to both Detroit newspapers along with the Sunday New York Times; by high school I was reading all of them nearly cover-to-cover.
When CNN started while I was in college, I thought having 24 hour news was a great concept. No more waiting around; it’s there practically on demand!
The Internet only enhanced my appetite, of course.
Until I eventually started getting indigestion.
2016 came and went, and boy have I had lots of ingestion since then. Anyone got a Rolaids?
Now I find myself running from the news rather than seeking it. It’s everywhere. The web of algorithms, predictive matrixes, etc., all have me so figured out by now, that my feeds deliver content which keep me safely in the leftward bubble that I’ve willfully constructed. Any hint of a “MAGArian” point of view somehow invading my space, and I’m able to click it away using a virtual fly swatter. Edward R. Murrow and Pierre Berton are no doubt rolling over in their graves at such tunnel vision. Hell, William F. Buckley probably is too, bless his pure conservative heart in hindsight.
I suppose what gets to me more than anything else is the sheer urgency of everything. Yes I’m bothered by Iran’s aggressions in the Persian Gulf this week, but having to see it on screens while at the gym only raises my blood pressure more, ironically enough.
So healthy diversions are obviously necessary. Reading books and listening to music are favorite activities for me, as is getting out to exercise regularly. And, I sheepishly admit, so is trolling the internet, even with the obvious dangers involved.
For instance, one of my favorite time-wasting hobbies is to peruse YouTube videos of historical events like the Kennedy assassinations, the Potsdam and Yalta conferences, English royalty, NASA space missions, etc. I love history, and I also enjoy watching how all these events were covered by the news at the time.
Not long ago I was looking at the news coverage of the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan in 1981. I watched John Chancellor’s reporting on NBC and couldn’t help but notice how when he ended the broadcast, he did so with a reassurance to viewers that all of this would be discussed the next day; that there’s nothing yet to be reported which can’t wait until later. WordPress Gutenberg won’t play nice here and have the video start playing at the precise moment as an embed video, so please just click on the link below and it will open correctly in a new window/tab:
“For this evening, there really is nothing more to report.”
Don’t you just love that? In other words the message was clear: everyone should go about their regular lives because the news will be on again tomorrow.
Statistically speaking, a healthy number of you reading this aren’t affected by any of what I’ve written here. You continue to live your lives unfettered by the chaos. To all of you, I bow my head in solid admiration.
But for those of you who are struggling to keep it all at bay, I welcome your solidarity in lessening our exposure to the madness. Take a few peeks each day to make sure you’re up-to-date, but then quickly walk way from the light.
And watch out for that screaming child too.
Until next time…