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.