I’ve always been one who wanted to keep abreast of the news, even when that meant the evening news with Huntley and Brinkley and the Chicago Tribune. Or the Springfield Times-Reporter and John Chancellor. That interest in current events and world news became an obsession when I was a midshipman at Annapolis.
One of the “learning exercises” that is used to train plebes is to have them memorize massive amounts of information, then regurgitate it on command of any upperclassman or officer. This is, of course, impossible by definition. It teaches many things, among them how to think under pressure, how to keep track of large amounts of data and multitask, how to fail and still keep going, how to prioritize your time, and so on.
One of the particular techniques used for this is the delivery of a morning newspaper every day, usually before dawn. If everyone else is up at 0600, plebes need to be up at 0500, scanning the paper for details and news that might be of particular interest to the upperclassmen in their company. These are the ones most likely to be grilling you at breakfast. You learn quickly that this one’s favorite baseball team is the Yankees, his favorite player is Lou Piniella, so you need to know the score of last night’s game, what Piniella did, where the Yankees are in the standings, who the winning and losing pitchers are, where they’re playing tonight, who tonight’s starting pitchers are… Tomorrow you get to learn that all over. And the next day.
Multiply that by twenty or thirty or more. This one hates baseball but loves NASCAR. This one is keeping track of the development of the F-14 Tomcat fighter. This one wants to know anything significant about Detroit, his home town. That one follows politics and economics and wants to know what the Dow Jones is doing. And so on, and on, and on.
One of the side effects of surviving this (sort of) is that you either never want to see a newspaper or news report again, or you become neurotically obsessed with the news. Since most of the young men and women there are extremely bright, well educated, in touch with the world, and being trained for leadership roles, it’s almost always the latter.
Flash forward forty years, where 1974’s stream of information has become more like Niagara Falls. The internet, social media, FaceBook, Twitter, hundreds of channels of cable television, multiple 24/7 news channels…
As you might imagine, this is like giving a heroin addict a lifetime supply and an IV the size of a garden hose.
This is not to say that I spend all of my waking hours trying to “drink from the fire hose” of information. I manage to stay quite functional, thank you very much. But I do have a much higher than average interest in the news and keeping track of almost anything that I find interesting, be it local, state wide, national, or international. In my case, this also extends to interplanetary, interstellar, and intergalactic, as you may have noticed from some of the previous 1,000+ posts.
One of the serious down sides of this that I’m seeing is the almost overwhelming depressing tone of so much of recent news. Whether the terrorist attacks in Beirut, Paris, and Egypt, or just about anything coming out of any of the US Presidential candidates, it’s difficult to stay optimistic and upbeat some days. Yet, there’s that phobia, that fear (thanks, Annapolis!) that something important might get missed or overlooked if I turn away.
I find more and more that I find myself reaching my limit and turning away. I don’t know if it’s me getting older, or weaker, or if the news itself has just gotten to be more horrible. Actually, I think it’s just an effect of the sheer volume of information and news available today, not necessarily the nature of it. If the internet and social media had been around in all of their glory during the American Civil War, World War II, or even Vietnam, I’m sure we would be seeing horrors that would match anything that Daesch is doing or Trump is spewing out of his ignorant face. (Sorry, did that come out loud?)
So now that we can see cell phone videos from inside the theater where more than 100 people died on Saturday – I don’t need to. Now that we can see videos of Jihad John decapitating innocent hostages – I don’t need to. Now that the Republican presidential candidates seem to be trying to constantly one-up each other to see who can be the most ignorant, reactionary, clueless, and tasteless – I don’t need to watch.
Many people are responding to the deluge of hate, anger, and terror by posting pictures of kittens or puppies. Or penguins. That may be a better option for me right now. I’ve got stories to write, another major adjustment in my life to make, and enough stress in my every day life to keep me on my toes. I don’t have to pile the troubles of the entire world on top of that.
I no longer care what Bob Guida’s favorite football team did today or what happened in Detroit. Google it yourself.