I had an exchange in the comments with a reader (who left no name, just “Email” – for clarity’s sake I’ll call him/her Anonymous). The topic was reading/watching the news (a favorite topic of mine) and I felt it was good enough to move up to a full post. I’ve made a few edits to the original exchange, mainly for spelling, to add and edit a few words for clarity and just to make the flow of the conversation more obvious. This was all in response to the 67 ways to outlive 106 billion people post, in which I argue you shouldn’t watch the news. If you want to see the original unedited conversation, go that post; those comments are unedited.
Anonymous: Never read the news. Never stop learning new things. Enjoy reading. Why do hippies hate the news? But promote what it is?
Brip Blap: I copied and pasted the following from CNN.com on 11/14. These are the “top headlines”:
- Student: Clinton camp fed me question
- Police kill unarmed man holding brush
- Surgeon claims he operated on Kanye’s mom
- Blacks half of AIDS cases, 1% of AIDS quilt
- Ticker: Terrorist attack on mall portrayed in ad
- Governor calls on higher power for rain
- Man tortured 10 months wants apology
- WPLG: Man fleeing police killed by alligator
- Blast rips off man’s fingers at ball game
- Chlamydia cases sets STD record
- Suspect tries to flush gun down cell toilet
- Time: Alicia Keys gets phished
- How to keep sane on your holiday visit
- Casino implodes in way-cool glitzy fashion
Tell me how many of those are “learning new things.” You call it news, I call it a waste of time. It doesn’t make me a hippie by any stretch of the imagination to dismiss news stories about flushing guns down toilets or casino fashions, does it?
Anonymous: Sorry about the comment, it may have been too harsh. I forgot a smiley. I receive news from friends, that I read, on a daily basis. I was pleased to read that Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize. I have a long rant (no link) about News and TV, and about how people dismiss the medium independent of content as a choice of style. I enjoy the news and TV, and know many who don’t. I feel that it is just too simple to find elements of society that you find distasteful and shoot the messenger. Sorry again for the hippie comment. Most people I know that live by the code you posted would consider it an honor. Again though, the human experience is vast … who are you to decide what learning is? how did you learn to not read the news?
Brip Blap: It did seem harsh but that’s OK, I understand (apology accepted). I can’t see that a label like ‘hippie’ would ever be an honor to me, but if it was meant to be, thanks. While I might admire some of the (stereotypical) hippie qualities like peace, love, understanding, etc. I also had a lot of problems with their ideas (again, stereotypical) about drug use and the “drop out” mentality. I am not a hippie by a long shot.
Let’s define news. I say something is news if it in some way provides me with information that affects my life; where I draw the line is arbitrary. Troubles in Pakistan may someday cause me trouble due to their possession of nuclear weapons. Fair enough. Will knowing about riots and so on in Pakistan now cause me to act differently? No. Does it help my career? My family? My relationships with others? No, no, no.
Second: the US media does not actually give us “reporting of events”. They SELL us news. NBC or CNN or FOX receive money for an entertainment program. Some people enjoy the part of the entertainment program that tells them about Paris Hilton, or a triple murder, or Pakistan riots. But each of those networks are using those stories to entice viewers to watch advertising. Same with papers, or online news. There is no not-for-profit news. I also particularly pick on the TV news and yes, I dismiss it both on the basis of style AND content.
Third: the perception of the entire US media towards external events is flawed. If you saw the runup to the Iraq War it is clear that our media is unable to accurately determine the truth of events. They do not investigate. They report others’ assertions. Watch any news program for 30 minutes and at least once I guarantee you’ll see a reporter ask another reporter his OPINION or ANALYSIS of an event. That is not news.
I love reading history. History is also seen through the eyes of the victors and so on, but there is some sort of consensus on events after the passage of time that you can’t get AS events occur. I can even start to agree that there is simply some benefit to being educated about the history of mankind in a general sense. I should know who Caesar was, who Robespierre was, who Hermann Goering was, I guess. I simply don’t think there is much value in learning too much that is not relevant to my daily existence unless I derive some other value from it. I have a lot to keep up with, as we all do. I do not find that knowing Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize is useful information for me. I’m terribly glad he did – I think he represents what is best about America and I wish he was our president today. It might even just make me happier to know that he won. Fine. But knowing he won an Oscar or a Nobel doesn’t really enlighten me, or help me. Reading his book and watching his movie did. Reading about the prizes he won for them didn’t. And hearing about a triple murder in San Diego or Dallas or the Bronx certainly helps me in no way, shape or form. Out of all of this, too, I’m just skipping past the fact that 90% of the news is ridiculous entertainment junk. Britney blah blah blah.
I used to be a news junkie. All day every day I read about death, stupid politics, hopeless terror and the sex lives of celebrities. I filled my head up with tension and worthless knowledge. Then one day, after reading a particularly horrible series of news stories about abused children I decided enough was enough. That time I spent reading about abused children? Better spent working to make more money and give it to causes I support like children.org and the Russian Children’s Welfare Society. The time spent on politics? Pointless – if you think anything these politicians say will come to fruition, go read about Bush’s compassionate conservatism. Go read about Clinton’s promises in 1992. There is nothing there.
And as far as the question “who am I to decide what learning is?” I cannot learn for you, or for my wife or my family or my friends. I can only learn for myself. For others I can teach, or give opinions, but I cannot learn for them. So who am I to decide what learning is? Since I am the only person I can learn FOR, I am the ONLY person who can decide what learning is for me. I turn around and explain my position, but whether you accept it as knowledge for yourself is up to you, just the same as my decision to watch the news or not was mine. And really, if the tone of this seems overly angry it’s not meant to be, but I do feel it strongly. None of this, finally, is original thinking. Thoreau said it best:”If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter, we never need read of another…. All news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea.”