Monday, December 22, 2014 8:58 PM
I’m quite worn out with considering the issues that arise from watching the news and using the Internet. Even the stuff that concerns New York City, while possibly affecting friends and relations—is still far from my immediate sphere of interactivity. Likewise, there are people I care for who live in Norway, London, California, The Carolinas, Massachusetts, Florida—lots of places—and news of catastrophe in anyplace near those areas concern me more than, say, Syria or Crimea, which are only places where strangers live. I care about those strangers, too, in the general way that people do—it’s not as if I know everything about them from one newscast, and it’s not as if there’s a whole lot I can do on any given day to affect events on a global scale.
But hearing news from far away is something that becomes more immediate in our present than it has even been in our past. News in print has been around virtually since the printing press was invented, but it was not only far away, it was well-aged—at least a day old, and in some cases a week or more. The advent of radio and TV news reduced the aging process, but did not remove it entirely. Now time is no longer dividing us from the people in the news—only distance. And the ubiquitous video cameras give us a good, close look—we are eye-witnesses—only our presence is distant. Our empathy kicks in. Ironically, the distance that once may have softened our concern becomes a frustrating detail that only excites our dismay at natural disasters, human-rights injustices, and genocides that occur thousands of miles away.
This immediacy gives a power to current events, regional and global, and gives the news a kind of prescription strength—and we must all self-prescribe judiciously. It’s easy to overdose on current events—it’s easy to lose perspective, to get over-excited, to want to rail at the bad guys, even when the bad guys are us—it can be destabilizing, to say the least. People complain that we pay too much attention to our phones and tablets—I suggest we take a step back not just from the I-phone, but from what’s on it. Here’s a useful guideline—if you’re more upset about an international incident than you are about something that’s happening right in front of you, you need to take a beat and turn off the news feed for a while.
People used to get bored to death sitting around at home—I remember we used to do anything to get out of the house and divert ourselves. But now it is only when we’re out and doing things that we are insulated by our geographic location—when we’re at home, our screens give us a window on the whole world—with a sharp focus on the most shocking, upsetting parts. I put it to you that inside and outside are no longer the ‘boredom divide’—now it’s offline and online. If you want to give your nerves a rest these days, you don’t stay indoors—you stay offline. If you want some peace and quiet, you don’t lock your door—you turn off your cellphone.
I see many people posting ‘final’ holiday posts, implying that they’ll be offline for the remainder of the holiday period—and I applaud that. If I had a busier life, I’m sure I’d be doing the same. As a compromise, I’m ignoring anything negative and focusing on cheerful or funny or just plain interesting stuff for the duration. They’ll be time enough for sparring after the new year has come.