Discover Vintage America - AUGUST 2018
Kicking the news habit
I've been a news junky for most of my adult years. Probably anyone engaged in the profession of journalism can say the same. I have always subscribed to the local newspaper and also receive the New York Times (mostly for the crossword puzzle) and had a news-based radio on in the house most of the day. I'd usually hear any breaking story as it developed. And more recently my "smartphone" would certainly alert me to anything and everything all day long.
But all that has changed in the last year and a
half. These days the news, for me at least, has become simply too excruciating to endure most
of the time.
Remember when the Internet was new and
experts crowed about how much less time we'd spend searching out information and how much more time we'd spend, say, relaxing at the beach with our families? Easy access to news and information was supposed to save our time and sanity. Turns out… not so much. Instead, the Internet, a 24-hour news cycle, smartphones,
and an unprecedented political climate are all conspiring to make us feel lousy.
Writing in Politico, Jack Shafer notes: "Almost without fail, cultures greet new communications technologies with great optimism, but soon, the information ecstasy turns to information anxiety. The telephone came first. It was a boon. By 1897, it was a bane, as the New York Daily Tribune griped about 'telephone mania, a modern disease from which only the friends of those afflicted suffer.' The power of radio animated the nation when it arrived in the 1920s, but by 1932, a New York Times writer was calling the radio experience a passive thing with a 'dazing, almost anesthetic effect upon the mind.'"
An ecstasy-to-anxiety oscillation has greeted every subsequent communications technology: movies, television, satellite TV, computers, video games, the Internet, and the smartphone. First, it's the greatest thing. Soon, news articles and studies push back, observing how the new technology zombifies users.
The most radical information-processing technique may be to simply ignore the news. At this, many Americans excel. A 2008 study by the Pew Research Center found that 27 percent of adults under age 30 got no news on any given day.
I am so grateful that Le Tour de France was televised live early in the mornings. All through July rather than CNN, my TV was tuned into that amazing bicycle race that attracts riders from around the world. It reminded me that great things could happen without a major American presence.
Plus, the scenery is beautiful. It was a great distraction. The recent World Cup competition also illustrated that most people in the world can get along quite well without American influence and don't care about the NFL or Major League Baseball.
Most of my afternoons are spent in glorious silence now. I walk the dogs. I read more books. I water the lawn. I go to steam engine shows. I look forward to traveling – in short, anything real to help diminish the onslaught of "news". Enough will filter through after all.
Leigh Elmore can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leigh Elmore's Refurbished Thoughts Archive past columns