News Junky – Day 5

Earthquakes in Guatemala, murder in the Congo, profit warnings in Helsinki, explosions in Ankara, elections in Burkina Faso, child mortality in Vietnam, Canadian Agricultural subsidies, Rio Tinto’s African strategy, Prada’s autumn collection . . .

The Thinker, Alain de Botton, has described The News as akin to being given a sentence out of 300 different novels and being expected to comprehend each of the stories.

Shorn of meaning, we react to news like Scooby-Doo gobbling down tidbits—fishy, beefy, ducky, yuckky—then we shake ourselves and go back to the couch and the big TV.

My GP tells me a lot of elderly patients who are not mobile during the day are trapped inside watching news that fills them with dread and sadness. Sleepless at night, they listen to radio shock jocks dishing out anger and contempt. It is not a recipe for happiness in the Third Age.

In my garden there is peace. The Angophora flings its bone-bleached branches over a wooden seat, as daffodils push towards the weak, winter sun. Yet I have forsaken the bliss of birdsong for the horror of hearing, for example, that a classroom of pubescent African school girls have been bundled up by brutish Taliban soldiers fighting against the education of women. Why can we know so much, but can do so little?

The news is not just reporting the world, it is remaking it in its own image and likeness.

Where once we turned our eyes towards heaven for answers, we now turn our smart phones skyward. Google is God.

Extreme weather, disease, famine, atrocities are all on the small screens in our pockets and purses. In Iraq, this week Jihadists tweet mass executions, live. News as porn.

The sheer scale of The News makes it unreal. Of necessity, we are numbed by the millions of violent images fed to us from the cradle to the vinyl lounges of old folks’ homes where, consenting or not, they marinate the elderly in 24/7 news, before they too are dispatched.

How can we possibly care or make decisions about an endlessly unspooling reel of images and sounds without context or nuance? In an enlightened future, The News may be understood to have been a form of psychological abuse.

News is a con trick, but is it also making us ill?

Wall-to-wall bad news might be the reason that doctors are writing hundreds and thousands of scripts for anti-depressants. What or who is manufacturing such a Tsunami of sadness  in our societies?

Consuming news was always deemed legitimate, not like skyving off to play the pokies, yet I now believe they are one and the same, both low-brow entertainments of equal merit with occasional jackpots. (Local news was excluded from my five-day blackout experiment, because it still performs the function of being useful to the community).

Wiser heads than mine warn that a press held in contempt by the people is bad for democracy.    The News is an ambush hidden in plain sight. Daily, sometimes hourly or more, it takes us hostage. Music, meditation, reading, conversation, convivial pie-eating, *gongoozling, or the after-glow of sunset walking, are all swept away by the the waves of bad news we attune to.

In its scale and ubiquity, Alain de Botton says the news machine can crush our capacity for independent thought and he theorizes that the News causes insomnia.

The professor describes the European control room of one global news organization where 500 people work, as a dimly lit concrete atrium decorated with screens connected to every corner of the world by fibre-optic tendrils.

“More data flows into that one building in a single day than mankind as a whole would have generated in the 23 centuries between the death of Socrates and the invention of the telephone.”

I’m breaking the habit of a lifetime, which just goes to show, you can teach an old dog like Scooby-Doo new tricks.

PS: Thanks to Reader Cath O. I have been told of the death of Scooby-Doo’s Daggy.  How spooky that I channelled this old chestnut. I would have once known this factoid but a news blackout has instead given me the leisure to harvest water chestnuts for the first time and finish another excellent Annie Hauxwell thriller featuring the flawed PI, Catherine Berlin, a heroine for the ages. 


Preview of The News: A User’s Manual by Alain de Botton.

*gongoozling is a lost word meaning to stare idly at the water.

7 thoughts on “News Junky – Day 5

  1. Oh so true, Barb! The constant feed of dastardly political deeds, murderous behaviour by fanatics, natural disasters and local catastrophes makes me feel angry and helpless. Sometimes I can donate money or sign a petition but usually there’s absolutely nothing I can do about any of this terrible news. Yet reading about it every day is addictive!
    I can’t understand why I keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result, but somehow, every day, I routinely pick up the paper and wade through it all. I never feel better after a good read or a “nice” little bout of TV news-watching so it’s time to stop. You’ve inspired me to use the next couple of days when I’m going to be away anyhow as a way of weaning myself off my news addiction.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fantastic, let’s compare notes. I changed my browser homepage from the Sydney Morning Herald to Alain de Botton’s alternative news site, The Philosopher’s Mail
    Alain says news is robbing us of our power to think, to be calm, to be original . . .
    Thank you for affirming what I’m struggling with in the belief my mental, physical and spiritual health will improve by facing my news addiction.
    Upside: I have more time for reading and I baked a fantastic apple & citrus crumble instead of watching The Drum!
    Let us know how you go, biowoman6.


  3. New to your blog and so happy to read your words. I live in hawaii and think one solution for children is to have two parents that are devoted to their welfare and both or either cannot be warriors. In great time, perhaps the wrong doing will slack off.


  4. Barbara, as I read your openning paragraph I immediately thought of Billy Joel’s “We didn’t start the Fire.” It is for all the reasons that this well thoughtout well written post brings to bare why I watch so little national news. At best it is depressing, and to say it is frightening is a vast understatement. Here the evening news consists of 27 mins of the most brutal of news available, followed by a 2 min (at best) feel good story. The local news is no better, and never is anything brought to conclusion. We hear more than a crap load of information about the capture and arrest of a terrible person, then we see on day of court proceeding, but rarely do we even get a BTW that asshole was given the death sentence. I remember as a kid, I actually trusted the folks that did the news, yes I understood each had a slant, but the basic story was the same. These days FOX, CBS, ABC and NBC. even CNN can report the exact same story, and you really couldn’t tell. The bias in reporting and the production of the news itself is shameful. You have your garden for solace, a place of refuge, a place to gather yourself, a place that when there everything is as good as you can make it. I have my headphones, where I can hide and find peace. No it’s not quiet but the music gives me that peace. Please take care, and be safe. Bill

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love the word “gongoozling!” That is one of my favorite pastimes! When I am stressed, it calms me down.
    I am so fed up with the news. I dislike the new formats where the news is exploited like entertainment & young people aspire to be a “somebody” on the news by shooting up schools or convenience stores, etc.
    We need to stop giving these heinous acts so much attention! We need to stop making people who do these acts the topic of conversation for days on end. We need to spend more time connecting with people.


  6. At the end of the day I know congress will have done nothing good for the people who elected them. I already know that approximately 88 people will have died, from gunshot wounds, on any given day and none of them will have been the result of a mass shooting. Is this what the news is driving us toward. You have another thought provoking blog for us to ponder.


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