These days, there is simply no avoiding the news. In a season of spectacular events coming one on top of the other -- revolutions, tsunamis, slayings of master-terrorists -- it is clearer than ever that we now have unparalleled means to follow what is going on, the very latest developments, even minute by minute updates. You no longer have to wait for the evening news or the hourly news on radio. There are now live-blogs and live-streams of visual images around major events. Your computer, even at work, can bring you the very latest news. Click on the Aljazeera live-stream, for instance, and you have a court-side seat in the arena of the Arab Spring. Tweets are updating global audiences on all kinds of issues. If you have a 3G or 4G phone, you can follow the news on the move in living color. And if you have a tablet device...ha, you are in news junkie heaven!
Without a doubt, we are the first humans to run the risk of drowning in a tempest of news. This has at least three interesting consequences.
The ubiquity, the immediacy of the news is a threat to self-command, to serenity, to calm detachment. Your emotions and your attention are constantly being pulled by and towards the latest spectacular development on the global stage. And it all seems to be happening these days. Because you have the means of accessing the latest developments -- it is all right there on the devices around you! -- it is tougher to resist the temptation to check, to find out what is happening in Misrata, or Zintan or Abbottabad. (You know where those places are, don't you?) I am sure studies will soon be revealing a steady rise in the number of citizens of the world addicted to the news.
Secondly, the immediacy of the news is blowing out the circumference of our concern. In particular, the human suffering engendered by wars, revolutions and natural disasters are no longer remote and easy to shut out. Modern tools, especially digital media, bring us the gory details, the human voices, the pleas for help, the gravamen of crimes against humanity. And you wish you could do something, anything, to help all these people. Mostly, you can't do much except donate some money to disaster relief efforts. So, what about the political leaders who can do something? Suddenly, political leaders come under pressure to 'Do Something!' about terrible human suffering in distant lands when all they would rather do is focus on their own domestic priorities. Recent example: 'Hey, Mr President, are you willing to have the slaughter of the citizens of Benghazi on your conscience when you have the means to help them? What kind of human being are you?'
Finally, the immediacy, the ubiquity of the news is testing the limits of empathy. We cannot expand the circumference of our concern ad infinitum. We have our own lives, our families, our friends and our intimates to worry about. The graphic and compelling images crashing into us from all these conflicts and disasters get to be too much. Horrific, monstrous deeds are being perpetrated. The killings in particular invade your inner redoubt . Goodness, people are being killed all over the place in these revolutions and conflicts. You know that each life is precious, sacred even, and, therefore, you want to be respectful of each death. And reflect on the human possibilities cut off, the pain of bereavement for the families -- and so on. But how many times can you do that in the course of each busy news day?
Photo Credit: RambergMediaImages (on Flickr)