Can you see the wood for the trees still? No-one said it would be easy...
‘Endless infinity’, ‘brain fizzing’, ‘liberating’, ‘trapping’, ‘overloaded’, ‘distracted’, ‘overstimulated’… were just some of the words filtering into my ear while wondering across Blackfriars bridge, listening to the last episode of Radio 4’s Making News. I stopped suddenly. I realised I fell into Paul Staines (aka Guido Fawkes)’s category of people who are waking up and ‘having a look at Twitter before I’ve even got the sand out of [my] eyes”. The horror!
The Slippery Slope
Just six months ago, I was living on a desert island in the Seychelles with no phone, internet or indeed desire for either. How have I allowed this transformation and new dependency on our “world of relentless white noise”?
I listened more intently on my new smartphone (unnecessary purchase), increasingly agreeing with Steve Richard’s take on our deafening, addictive, overwhelming, constant bombardment and “endless infinity of news’.
We’re all addicts
I nodded my head at the image of us as ‘lab rats’, whose addiction to staying informed used to be satisfied with a single daily dose of ‘contained and structured’ bulletins (thank you Trevor McDonald and Moira Stuart), but who are now hooked up to “one of those pumps you get when you’re terminally ill” with news “dripping into us in an analgesic flow”.
Charlie Beckett’s extreme notion of news as “almost environmental…a bit like the air that we breathe or a resource like water” rings worryingly true.
How have we allowed this augmentation of something so fundamentally superfluous to human survival overtake real life needs? 783 million people in the world do not have access to safe water yet some of us choose to check Facebook rather than take on fluids. How hydrated are you right now?
It’s physically and logistically impossible to stay abreast of the daily ‘Twitter storms’, the 180 new tweets I’ve received while writing this paragraph, the hundreds of news stories that have been uploaded in the last 5 minutes and the radio that’s broadcasting into my ears right now? If we can’t stay on top of these, never mind research balanced opinion around them, how can we reliably have an accurate grasp of the world as a whole?
As ‘Making News’ suggests, we are all ‘newsmakers’(great), 'rise up the citizen journalist’, but we also all select which other newsmakers we want to connect with. Isn’t this so tailored it’s skewed? Aren’t we just ‘news morphers’, adding opinion, insight and suggestion to our own personalised ‘drip feed’ and calling that ‘news’. Citizen journalism may be the sign of a true democracy but are we actually making news?
Working the system
Steve Richard’s thought that news is a “constrained and still wild force from which there is no escape” leaves me feeling uncomfortable and despondent. We’re not having to survive a ‘direwolf’ attack here; let’s not victimise ourselves.
We do have a choice. Yes we are privileged to have such gadgetry that delivers infinite information in infinite ways, but we are also blessed with rational thought, the ability to form opinion, reflect and select.
Long life travel writing and thinking, away from the 'white noise'!
Limiting Twitter feeds, shaving a few minutes off social media snuggle time, picking up a hard copy once in a while and actually switching off the drip to allow our brain to sift and analyse those 140 characters and form actual opinion will at least allow us to grab a drink of water! Opting out seems to be the answer to more accurately ’opt in'. It might also end up in an intelligent conversation or two…Even better, it might encourage us to get back on that plane and find the woods and the trees once more...