Words. Thousands and millions of words. Constantly getting churned out from keyboards around the world. A never-ending stream of thoughts and details, facts and admissions. Spilling out into the Web at a Class 5 rapid rate.
History. Analysis of the past in the present. Constantly changing, being reframed, deconstructed. Not necessarily too far back and possibly instantly expounded upon. Usually avoided by the technical elite as not worth remembering or thinking about.
Choice. Where do you stand on a subject? What words have you picked to explain something that has happened? What parts of history have you chosen to remember and how clear are your details? What has been LEFT OUT of the word stream? How do you choose to fill your time in the present moment?
News. Must get click-throughs. Must appease advertisers and corporate bosses. Must not upset fragile political alliances. Cowers at lobbyists who scare advertisers. Selectively edited to cause a flood of emotions and then moves on to the next potentially dammed site. Hopefully opens the flood gates before other sources push their own buttons. No topic too banal or useless, especially if it gets click-throughs, thus appeasing advertisers and corporate bosses. News cannot keep up with the speed of words these days. News can only follow social media at times to keep pace with history. News has very few filters with stories that do nothing but waste time for readers.
Readers. Have phones. Read phones. Demand instant words. Usually do not understand history. Get caught up in latest breaking news. Tsunami. Then movie star scandal. Whatever appears in phones is what is discussed with friends. In the flood of words, they skim the surface like insects. Only what is instant is gleaned. Little historical analysis is added to the words. Making a choice about news from a small, consolidated corporate pile of sources. A small percentage of readers go against the stream, but their efforts are large and their needs unattended.
My second News Fast began several weeks ago, after the Japanese Tsunami and Nuclear Crisis. Like most people, I got whipped into a frenzy with the news of the crisis, sometimes refreshing news sites every five minutes. Fear and confusion was palpable when the topic came up face to face. Distrust and cynicism as well. Then, the New York Times decided to start charging to directly click-through their news and editorial posts. I decided to forgo reading articles, taking a break from the emotion and energy involved in following stories that constantly stirred my passions.
Just a moth before the Japanese news frenzy, I was constantly clicking updates on the uprisings in Egypt and the Muslim World. Watching the videos were mesmerizing. History unfolding before the world’s eyes. I listened to a special Egyptian Uprising episode of Democracy Now via their Podcast, and a journalist named Robert Fisk spoke on the situation. His opinion was sobering, realistic and pessimistic.
Rober Fisk? I’d read his reports on the UK’s Independent site. Amy Goodman praised him at the top of the segment and then praised him at the end, plugging his book “The Great War for Civilisation.” I took a break from my work, went to Amazon.com, found the 1,000 page opus, and bought it without a thought.
When News Fast 2.0 began, I cracked open Fisk’s brick and began reading news and analysis from the Middle East. Not the latest mouse-clicking news frenzy, but reports from a Soviet-invaded 1970s Afghanistan. Analysis on the first holocaust of the 20th Century: the Turks 1910s systematic slaughter of the Armenians. Now I am reading about the 1990s Oslo fiasco between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Fisk wraps these historical events around three themes: Europe’s horrible handling of a post-WWI Middle East reorganization, the set-up for the 9-11 attack and the US’s reaction, and the crafty use of words. The last theme sits nicely with my brain at the moment because of my current interest in litigation. Several of my teachers, lawyers all, have clearly stated that “words matter” in any contract, law, case decision, etc. Fisk agrees, but focuses on journalism’s use of words.
His critique paints a dismal picture for the Free World’s news sources. Journalists try to be “fair and balanced” but we all know that this isn’t true. So readers with ethics lean towards the New York Times as a US source that can be trusted. Fisk has consistently shown that the NY Times is biased, backing these allegations with simple analysis of word choices. Armenian holocaust or genocide? No. the NY Times uses more flighty language in order to not upset the Turks. Israeli terrorism? No. The t-word is only used for Muslims. If an Israeli kills Muslims, then they are “extremists” or something softer. Again and again, Fisk shows how the leading papers in the USA and Europe choose words to angle the readers’ opinion against what would be construed as fair and balanced.
His book is a perfect read during a News Fast.
I guess News Fast is misleading. My friend Daniel has gone on a “News Diet” now that NY Times only gives a small amount of free click-throughs. I cannot avoid headlines on FaceBook, or on the side of a page that posts one of my favorite daily comic strips. Oddly, when I get caught in the “current pop news frenzy” I mostly read headlines. Dozens of them on many different sites. Some on my phone.
So I cannot completely stop the stream of headlines unless I stay off the Internet. That is difficult to do. Glancing at papers on the street or in a public bus happen too. But I try to fast. To practice not desiring to see what is the current popular topic to get anxious about. And I do not constantly click the dozen or so news sites I have bookmarked. I keep no news page up on my browser to constantly go to to see the latest and greatest breaking topic. These actions allow me to look at that craving part of my brain that wants the latest news. The craving eventually subsides, and is usually filled with other activities. Reading non/fiction, research, conversations, etc. fill the void.
I even proudly boast that I could care less about celebrity news, but if the news sources deem it financially worthy, they will post it on their sites. Therefore, I know about Lady Ga Ga’s meat dress, Charlie Sheen’s insanity, and other un-news. Damn you pop culture! Hard to avoid the headlines! But I never click through.
Yesterday I broke the fast and looked at a few radical news feeds that I have bookmarked. I failed to get any updates on anything current or popular and read about an ongoing critique of the Black Bloc (forever critiqued). Today, I found out that the American Civil War started 150 years ago, so I spent a bit of time looking at news about commemorations in Charleston, SC. I expected bias but was surprised to find that it wasn’t a hoo-rah Rebel celebration. The South did lose after all, so all was sober in honor of the thousands on both sides who died during that time.
News Fast 2.0 will continue. I will still get news from word-of-mouth and via the ever present FaceBook “news feed” posts. I just won’t click-through any of it. Not right now. I have decided to check in on Robert Fisk’s blog posts. I trust his analysis. I am contemplating reading the NY Times’ Paul Krugman’s op-eds. I do not always trust him, but he pushes the edge for mainstream, US news. But the fast goes on.
Taking a step back from the ease of instant access is taking a step back from the waves of information that constantly demand one’s attention. Younger people see these waves as normal. Having lived before the Internet, I appreciate these waves at times and wonder what would’ve changed had past historical events been so connected and instantly shared across the world.
But I wonder at what point current events overwhelm the desire to be part of history. Most people have no grasp of history and may not even see any connection to the past as they read an article from their Android device. But it’s all out there in the flow of online words. Factual or not.
If you write about it, choose your words wisely. If you read about it, scrutinize every word choice. If you’re living in the middle of it, don’t get too anxious or overwhelmed.
There will always be the next news cycle with a new topic for you to chew on. Probably in 10 to 15 minutes time!