We live in an age of “breaking news” where something is “breaking” every 15 minutes. Thanks to a thousand TV channels and the 24×7 onslaught of social media on our mobiles and laptops, we get an up-to-the-second news of the whole world. Technology and communications are so incredibly fast now , that if an earthquake happens in Ecuador, South America, someone in Tehran, Iran will know about it within 5 minutes.
Is that good? Do we need 500 items of information from around the world on every topic, every 2 minutes? Even asking the question “is it good” makes no sense. You can only judge something as good or bad if you use it first. How are you going to process a continuous barrage of news every minute? You cannot. You will give up after 30 minutes. We have too much information overload. Our own way of coping with it has been to just go over all the information, as fast as we can without getting too deep into it. So we try to make sense of the world around us by reading two sentences of whatever is coming in. Twitter thrives because it condenses everything into 160 characters. We have become accustomed to quantity over quality.
To come back to my original question about “is all this good”, well – its not good. We know a lot of things happening around the world today, as compared to 10 years back, but our information is:
- purposely or innocently doctored a.k.a fake news
There is a reason why newspapers and print media still have a lot of respect, even if they are seemingly becoming obsolete(?) in today’s digital age. Compared to the digital media, print media is slow and the news almost seems stale. But what looks like a disadvantage is actually their strongest point.
An earthquake happens in some part of the world. Within 30 minutes the social media is full of people posting events, videos, photos etc. People will come up with their own opinions about what happened and you may get conflicting reports of the same thing. So what you get is a piecemeal account of the earthquake. If you follow it on TV, they will sensationalize every point and make it look like it is the most important thing on earth. They will say the same thing in 20 different ways just to keep you hooked.
The problem with digital media is primarily the fact that everyone becomes a reporter/journalist. There is much more to news reporting than simply putting up facts and opinion. There is a reason why journalism is a formal branch of study. Students of journalism spend years in understanding the basics of news gathering, collating information and how to present facts and in what format. You may get the news of the earthquake a day late in your local newspaper but the articles will be well-researched, presented and experts will give an objective analysis of the whole thing. Instead of being bombarded with tweets every 15 seconds, you will be finally able to get the complete picture in one single place. The concept of the general public reporting on various topics is great but it should not be a substitute for well-edited news. Its the equivalent of saying that just because someone has a digital database of symptoms and treatments he can become a doctor and start prescribing medicines.
Another thing with newspapers and periodicals is that they minimize your “world awareness” time. If you are constantly checking social media and the internet then you are constantly having to handle information throughout your waking hours. Often this makes you nervous and depressed and makes you start thinking that the world is becoming a terrible, uncertain and complex place. It is not a good state to be in. When you read the morning newspaper you are soaking in information about the world for maybe an hour and thats it. Then the rest of the day , you can concentrate on your own life. That goes a long way in keeping your peace of mind and maintaining some hope and sanity about the world we live in.
Slow news is good for you. Most of the news is something which you do not need to know on an urgent basis. Even if you get the news 24 hours later, your life will go on fine.
It is very important to be careful of where and to who you give your attention to. Attention is a very scarce commodity these days and companies spend millions to grab your attention for a few seconds. You should be cognizant of the moments where your attention is being hijacked or where you unknowingly give it away.
Slow down – you dont need so much information. You are a human being, not a data processing machine.
(Featured photo by Nathan Anderson)