I don’t read the news. I haven’t read a word for about six months and my life is much better for it. I have three reasons spanning the personal, the political and the philosophical.
For me the amount of content is just overwhelming. I’m addicted to lists. I’ll consume anything numbered from one to infinity. There’s something about the need for completion that drives me to look at more and more news. I feel compelled as a good citizen to know about ‘the state of the world’, an oft used phrase. The proliferation of content and inherently continuous nature of the news meant that I was trapped in a never ending cycle of checking and rechecking, desperate for more new content. Since I gave up the news I don’t have to do this anymore, I don’t have the option to swing over the guardian, the bbc and see if there’s anything new up there. I now have to consider what to do when I have a free moment which tends to lead to doing something more productive.
There are some downsides. Someone mentioned Syria and I panicked and responded with something along the lines of, “oh yes it’s absolutely terrible isn’t it”. It seemed to satisfy my conversation partner. I’ve realised that mostly when people bring up the news, it’s in order to tell you at length about their opinions on something. It’s rare that people will spontaneously dig into your thoughts on the matter. Even rarer is a challenging pop quiz on this week’s headlines.
I don’t believe there is such a thing as the state of the world. It’s easy to imagine as a concept - a sense that you understand the shape of events. That you can structure and perceive it in your mind. In some ways it’s a way of getting a grip on things that are out of our reach. But having this image in your mind doesn’t mean all that much except for a feeling of security. The media taps into this very human desire to get one’s hands around the world by feeding us narratives about the way the world is. These narratives lead us down a particular path of understanding, pushing out others. I’ve written more about narratives in life.
To read the news is to soar like a bird, seeing the world from that 10,000ft drop and being able to encapsulate it all within your perspective. As I’ve said this perspective is comfortable but delusory. You’re really only looking at the map that’s been drawn out for you, a simplified system. What we really need in the news is not narratives and top down views, but a proliferation of metaphors. The many-to-many communication of twitter exhibits this perfectly. There is no overall story.
Following a live stream of news on twitter means seeing a number of different perspectives all at once with no attempt of coherence. There isn’t any definition of what the news is or should be, a ‘story’ about a mass murder is as contained within 140 characters as is someone’s breakfast. Certainly, there are events that happen in physical locations that affect more people more significantly, but what’s important to us isn’t necessarily defined by that. Because of this, Twitter is a more honest medium which more accurately reflects our limited ability to report from a limited view, the validity of anyone’s perspective as reporter, and our ability as news understanders to assemble a coherent picture of the world out of many metaphors. Ultimately, this will serve us better as it continues to develop.
I also resent someone taking control of the narrative. Even to look at a headline is to have the order of the day imposed - a statement that declares that this is the most important thing that has happened for everybody. We can have many different viewpoints and fragments of experience. We can’t have this single, linear top down perspective. It doesn’t make sense to view the entire world in chunks of specific navigable narratives that have starts and ends. It’s a form of self reinforcing social control - the yarn spun by the masters of narrative who dominate the chain of distribution - whether that’s digital or paper. Many to many is just an infrastructure. Lets make the story itself purposefully schizophrenic.
24 hour news is the worst manifestation of all of these issues. It’s an unpleasantly persistent stream of sex crimes and murder. The problem is rather than being a dip in service which adjusts itself to the amount of things available to be reported on it’s become a distinct product itself. Because of the vastness of the programming it has to be filled arbitarily with compelling narratives.
However, for the first reason of the addiction to permanent instant gratification I don’t check twitter either. For all this, it just makes me happier not to know some events have happened.