Thursday, September 20, 2007

No News is Good News

One of the real blessings of our trip to the cottage last week was that we had almost no contact with the larger world and were therefore totally insulated against ''current events''. For nearly a week, I had no idea what was going on in the world. It was bliss.

I wonder if I'm the only one who feels the weight of too much contemporaneity; I'd imagine not. The other day, the man who sold me my parking pass had CNN dot com playing on his laptop in the booth. The secretary that I had to speak to had the Drudge Report opened. I remember my boss used to come in every day and breathlessly inform us of the latest terrorist threats on Fox News. Everyone in the train this morning had the newspaper opened. And have you noticed how many public places have added television sets, generally with the cable news going. The library I went to today, the shawarma restaurant, the buildings in Toronto, all of them have television news monitors. I wonder if this developed after 9/11. It all reminds me of the speech at the end of The Thing from Another World- ''Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!''

It's as if we cannot escape the duty to be informed. What Joyce's Stephen Dedalus said is out of date: we've escaped the nightmare of history, almost completely. And the future is unimaginable. Now it's the present that bears down upon us.

Of course, plenty of people have no idea what's going on in the world; I think they might be the lucky ones. Naturally, I laugh too when I see the man-on-the-street interview with some rural Kallikak who can't name the current Vice President; and yet, if there's any piece of reality that I might be happier being oblivious to it's Dick Cheney. The War on Terror, the PATRIOT Act, car bombs, al-Quaida, the Minutemen, Guantanamo Bay, suicide bombings, floods, famines, genocide: most likely, I'll never have direct contact with any of these things, but I feel obligated to have ''awareness'' of them. Might I be better using my brain if I ignored them?

And how much ''awareness'' should I have of suicide bombings, say, in contrast to my awareness of my wife's emotional life? 1/5th? 1/10th? How about in contrast to my awareness of the cat? Would that be a 1 to 1 ratio? Remember that CNN won't starve if I ignore it! Obviously, I have to be better informed about Early Modern French History, but how much better informed?

Perhaps I'd be better at living if I aimed at total information unawareness; have a personal news blackout and focus on my work and family. Certainly, that's what I did last week, and I can't say that there was anything bad about it. Apparently, something happened to O.J. Simpson, and I didn't hear some speech that the President made. Honestly, I can't say that I've really missed anything though.


Holly said...

I have wondered this, and further wondered... how MUCH news does a person need to apprehend, in order to truly "be informed"? Is there an upper limit? Obviously, I can't know Everything... and given how much information is out there, I find that I read (speaking in terms of news articles) a lot of short, lightweight articles about the things that interest me. But there's a good chance that actual knowledge, with depth, and breadth, is going to come from learning more, and possibly, learning about topics I am not particularly interested in--because those are the ones where I will naturally be deficient to start with.

And... how much do I need to know? Really? Is it enough to know that a certain country is in turmoil? Do I need to know the exact nature, and destructive force of the turmoil? Do I need to know the he said/she said of the current spin on that turmoil? How much does the weather in a particular region that I'm not in really affect me?

Probably overexposure to international news items generates a sense of paralysis and helplessness in the world. What can *I* do about the DR Congo? What can *I* do about the dwindling population of sea life? What can *I* do about the maimed children of wherever they're maiming children today? And, in fact, a person can individually address some issues in the world, but how do you pick? And, as you say, at what expense? Is childhood poverty in your own country more or less important than infanticide in another country? How does either of those compare to your wife's emotional life? (sorry to pick on you, Claire, but he makes a good point with that.)

Imagine if each person could have news coverage tailored to what is REALLY important. You could be advised in a timely and thorough fashion of the traffic jam, the breaking scandal at your bank, the health of your children and pets, the condition of your own internal organs, and a brief summary of everything else that will likely impact you, from the cost of meat and milk to weather patterns that will ruin your holidays.

That would be great.

Hiromi said...

I think that people feel the need to be informed because there's this feeling that you need to be an informed citizen, knowledgeably participating in the governance of your locale/country, and even the globe if you fancy yourself a global citizen.

Rufus said...

Hiromi- I think that's exactly why I do it. I want to be a well-informed citizen. What's frustrating is that so little of it you actually get to vote on. I mean, every few years you get to vote for or against somebody. But you never get to vote against war, or against increased policing, or against immigration bigotry, or against political pandering. You just get to choose between two or more jerks every few years. And the candidates are so alike that you feel like you're voting for things you hate no matter who you pick.

We get such a little outlet to participate. I think this is why the news tries to involve the viewer- usually by giving them one or two 'positions' that they can identify with and staging fake 'debates' over those positions. It's basically an imitation of sports coverage.

And then, for me, living in two countries, it's even weirder- should I keep up with everything going on in Canada too?

You're definitely right about that feeling though- it's like we'd be too provincial, or just lousy citizens, if we weren't informed. Or perhaps even shallow in some way. It's really strange isn't it?

Rufus said...

Holly- there is a sort of paralysis after a while. You can see it set in with the newscasters as well. I halway expect them to say, 'Leading the news in how we're fucked this week...' What I'd like is to see the news start throwing in stuff from left-field. 'And now, here's Jim with a report on Zoroastrianism...'