#901: Losing the News

March 14th, 2018

“He had a party for time travelers.”

“And nobody came.”

“And nobody came. He didn’t tell anyone about it in advance. But now it’s in all the papers so going forward more people and more people will have read it, so the paradox started today. He was a funny guy.”

“Was?”

“Oh! You’re not on Twitter. Yeah, Stephen Hawking died.”

The newsroom where I work is like most newsrooms, and I presume most offices. People huddle over keyboards making references to news stories that just popped, scandals just uncovered and the Trump staff ouster of the day as if everyone within earshot already knows what happened. Because they do. Because it popped up on their screen or their phone at the same moment.

Since Friday, that hasn’t been me. I didn’t know why everyone was talking about Stephen Hawking this morning, just like the day earlier I didn’t know why everyone was talking about Rex Tillerson. Inspired by a New York Times article about a man who only read print news for two months, I have been getting all my news from either print or radio. I got my wife to change my Twitter and Facebook passwords and not tell me what they are, I set up Hootsuite so I can still promote blog posts and I’ve been stealing my work’s copies of the Trib, New York Times and Wall Street Journal to add to my pile of print newspapers I swear I’m going to get through.

The constant churn, the constant hum of updates and moronic hot takes about same, the constant half-reported snippets of a thing breaking somewhere on the planet compelling me down a rabbit hole of news to find out what the heck happened — they were driving me nuts. I left work each day feeling this a superposition of no hope for humanity and this planet is freakin’ awesome, depending on the last article I read.

Plus, there’s an election on. If I could get through March 20 without having Bruce Rauner’s jaundiced gob pop up unannounced on my computer, I’d call that a win. I’ve got one week left on my little challenge and this is what I’ve learned.

I’ve learned you can get through several sections of the New York Times before seeing a black face. The first one I saw was the actor David Oyelowo, a still from a movie he was in, paired with the Times’ review. They didn’t like the movie.

I’ve learned how much of a time suck keeping up on world events is. I got through my week’s to-do list on Monday and have started to work ahead.

I’ve learned that I’m no more or less powerful than I was when I knew more about the minute-by-minute updates. Waiting a day to become informed about the world hasn’t hurt me. You and your constant stream of information are just as powerless in the face of world events as I am.

I’ve learned I have no desire to argue politics with Facebook friends’ Facebook friends. Like zero. I’m not changing a former coworker’s cousin’s opinion on gun control no matter how much time I spend crafting the perfect status.

I’ve learned I can be both informed and relaxed. I’m not waiting for the world to tell me something horrifying happened. I can find out for myself the next morning after people get a better sense of what truly happened, minus the false leads and misleading falsehoods that distract and derail trying to follow a breaking event online. News is like improv comedy — it’s not better just because someone’s making it up on the spot.

I’ve learned it’s near impossible to find a print publication that highlights marginalized people. Online I can click a button and find news from different racial and ethnic communities, immigrant communities, LGBTQ communities. In life, I would have to run to different neighborhoods, hoping I can find a newspaper box that has a few copies of a small weekly left. To fit into my print-only experiment, any marginalized people would have to be un-marginalized enough to buy a printing press.

On the converse, I’ve learned much more about people I would never read about on my own. Turning control of my media consumption over to some news editor somewhere on the planet takes me to different places than I would find if I still had the ability to drill down to a keyword exactly the type and topic of article I would like to read.

I cheated this morning. I googled Stephen Hawking to confirm the death and a few article suggestions popped up. One had a headline I couldn’t not click. “Stephen Hawking is Still Underrated.” Great headline. SEO gold. I needed to see this article, March 20 challenge be damned. I clicked.

I read a few lines, then closed the tab.

In seven days, Stephen Hawking will still be dead. Trump will still be tossing loyalists on the kindling. The world will still provide horrifying and inspiring events and people that will pop up based on whatever algorithms Facebook uses to stalk my brain. I can spend the rest of my life inundated by machines blasting news at me and micro-specify my news wants down to the point where I can find out what Hawking served the time travelers who never arrived.

This week, I’m getting my news a different way. We’ll see how it goes.

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You are currently reading #901: Losing the News by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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