This has been one hell of a week. Tuesday night around midnight after watching hours of CNN tracking the election results, I resigned myself to the fact that Hillary was going to lose. I went to bed, unable to watch any more. I had seen enough. And that sums up how I feel about this whole election season, and even beyond that about the whole past year or so of tragedy after tragedy on the news. Terrorism, racism, sexism, homophobia, genocide, xenophobia, the refugee crisis, poverty, mass shootings, shootings of unarmed black men, protests, climate change, weather disasters: it feels like the whole world is coming apart at the seams. And I’ve seen enough. And I’ve come to that conclusion many times in the past year. But I always continue to watch anyways, glued to my TV screen, computer screen or phone constantly hitting refresh to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
I stumbled across a post on Medium the other day called “I Quit the News. Consider it Too.” My initial reaction was “Isn’t this just escapism and intentional ignorance masquerading as virtue?” But then I started to read it. And as the author recounted all the time he had spent consuming news about this election and how none of it mattered, I realized that I also had been completely consumed by it. I had obsessively gathered information thinking that somehow I was enriching myself. But really, I was distracting myself and feeding my overwhelming addiction to a continuous stream of content. I was buying what the media was selling: drama, heartache and a detachment from reality.
Contrary to how some people feel though, I don’t fault the news media, at least not entirely. I think it is impossible for them to deliver us what we demand and simultaneously produce good quality journalism. We demand 24-hour coverage. We demand all the information. We demand sensationalism, drama and enough doomsday content to satisfy our sick fascination with violence and misery. We demand to be entertained. And then we recoil in horror that a shallow, empty-headed reality TV star was able to rise to the highest office in our country, as though that is not perfectly representative of our culture and our illness. Are you not entertained America?
Let me be clear: I am not saying we deserve Donald Trump as our president. He exploited people’s fears and prejudices and party loyalty and used them to propel himself to power. And that must be condemned, in the loudest way and the most clear-cut terms. But if we don’t at least admit the part that we played in all of this then how can we ensure it will never happen again? How many of us secretly hoped he would run for president, just for the pleasure of seeing that spectacle and for the hope that he would crumble in front of our eyes?
I have felt my own addiction to the news and specifically to negative news becoming stronger in the last few years. I have felt myself cling to any and all information assuming that bad information was better than no information. I watched CNN’s election results coverage for 5 hours on Tuesday night. I literally sat there and watched John King draw inane circles all over the map like an elderly dementia patient trying to find Waldo for 5 hours. And for what? Why did I feel that I had to know the instant that anyone else did who won the election? And why after I knew the results the next day did I spend hours trying to find an article or a news piece or anything that would make me feel like I had some measure of control or understanding over the situation?
I’ve come to the conclusion that information is not always power. Being informed about what is happening in the world is important and it’s part of being a conscious citizen, but maybe we’ve taken it too far. Why does the media sensationalize the news and bombard us with horrific story after horrific story at all hours of the day? Because we keep reading and listening to it. And then we ask for more. We perpetuate the idea that when it comes to news we want quantity over quality, drama over reality and instant disembodied information over thoughtful analysis.
So I’m on a news hiatus until I feel I can consume the news responsibly again. When that time comes, I intend to read the news in the morning and then wait the agonizing 24 hours before I receive another piece of news. Just like the good old days.
-S (yeah I’m going to sign my posts S because I wish I lived in Gossip Girl)