Wednesday, 15 August 2012

What's News?

Since I've been back after 12 months away, I've been having a great time catching up with my friends. After dinner with a friend the other night, a friend emailed me:

So it was great to catch up with you last week. I have a follow up question: My brother thinks that because all news that is broadcast is "bad" that he doesn't bother watching, therefore is not informed. Is ignorance bliss? Is the outcome the same or similar if you are not in a position to change anything you observe on the 24 hr news cycle if you watch or don't watch? Thoughts?

I went on to reply...

...To be honest I don't know if I can really answer your question because it's been one I've been struggling with since I came back. Before I left Australia I was a total news junkie. Probably almost in the true sense of the word... I used to have "drug" seeking behaviour, I had total withdrawals and terrible FOMO (fear of missing out). It wouldn't be unusual for me to be working with ABC 24 news on the TV, Twitter in front of me and maybe streaming something else online. I was hooked.

But then I went overseas and while I tried to maintain my habit, it was much harder work. Less time to be spent watching endless (and frankly, repetitive) news coverage, Twitter feeds, reading blogs and overseas news websites... it's a lot to maintain. And when you are in a tropical paradise, somewhat less of a priority. And was my life any poorer during those 12 months? No.

Having said that though, the life I was living was without bounds, responsibility, time limits and was relatively stress free. I didn't give a shit about what Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard had said to/about each other that day, and I didn't even know that Bob Carr had been made Foreign Minister until just before I came back... All stuff I would have normally been on top of. 

What I'm trying to figure out now is whether or not news actually enriches my life now that I'm back, or whether it actually just stresses me out because I can't control any of it and often it doesn't directly affect my day-to-day life (yet... I don't have a house/kids/mortgage).  Have I really just surrounded myself with enablers? People with whom I need to be studying the news endlessly in order to be able to have a conversation? The answer to that is definitely yes. Now I just need to figure out whether or not that bothers me.

What probably bothers me more is that people don't do anything with their outrage... myself included. I get on Twitter and make clever remarks but I don't actually go out and picket parliament, start an action group to try and inform public policy or encourage others to do the same. One of my favourite quotes I found while I was viewing the Magna Carta in Salisbury was "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." So rather than just sit around on my arse being oh-so-informed, I need to get out there and actually do something.

So I guess in answer to your question, sitting around being informed is one thing, getting out there and doing something about it is better and probably more noble. But not knowing in the first place forfeits your right to be disgruntled. One of my other favourite sayings is "Do not complain about what you permit". 

Since then, the other factor I've been thinking about is the media's bias and need for sensationalism. As you can see from the headline I snapped in Cambodia last year, a child being held for services rendered while a woman returns home to tend to her husband's funeral would be HUGE news in Australia, because things like this just never happen here. Because we're lucky, because we live in a politically stable country with enforced laws and relatively low corruption. Yet if you read the headlines here you'd think this country was going to the dogs. Well it's not, but that's not newsworthy... "Actually things are going pretty well, in fact better than in a lot of other places, even places comparable to here" doesn't really seem like it would sell advertising space.

So I think a further thing to take into account with your news habit is to be discerning with your dealer and know where they get their stuff from. Which is not really news, but it adds to the complexity of 'do I really need this to survive?' I think the answer is like with all drugs - consider the drug, the dose, the toxicity and the therapeutic need.


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