Every day a new game-changer, and every day a catastrophe with an impact like nothing we’ve seen before. Humongous market figures we are left with, unable to entirely comprehend and scale. Oh, and throw in some arcane titles, the kind of which you need to read the article in order to know what it was all about, and then surprise! it leaves you unengaged.
While reading Alain de Botton‘s newest, “News: An User’s Manual” (Pantheon Books, NY, 2014), I found myself nodding in consent more than once. A little background will help – Alain de Botton is if anything, unhappy with the ways news are. I am, too. I’ve been trying to select my news sources for ages. I can’t say I’ve found the right path, but I still don’t feel inclined to watch TV – and I haven’t for 15 years now, and when browsing news on the internet, I try to skim through titles in such a way, that I don’t feel oppressed by news. When buying newspapers, I know I buy them for 10% of the content, and because of an old-school belief I should support printed newspapers. I am not entirely sure I should, in fact. I’m happier with this since I’ve lived abroad, because I can always disguise my fascination with news in the fact that I’m learning the local language and culture by reading some of the news.
News, according to Alain de Botton, are a universe worth considering for various reasons. To begin with, there’s the fact that reading news nowadays is a “ubiquitous and familiar habit”, which, all things considered, IS a prime creator of political and social reality. There are reasons to disregard this statement, and exceptional cases where we would readily disagree, but we can’t be representative of 100% of the worldwide population, or anywhere even close to that. So one thing is sure – there are people who live under the constant mirage of news as conveyor of a natural, and unaccented voice of reality. But are we really there?
News since the Enlightennment and up to Google News
With the advent of press printing and distribution, news permeated everyday life in a way that few people actually saw risks in, or thought wise to defend themselves from. Alain de Botton calls up the example of Gustave Flaubert, who witnessed during his lifespan a society still under the spell of cyclical time, with little interest in daily stuff – and another society, which felt empowered, and to a certain extent engaged by news, regardless of their walk of life. The thing is, and that’s where the contemporary face value of news comes up – or of ‘the soft slush of data’ as de Botton finds particularly alluring to call them; in the fact that the main reason of having the news in the first place, that is of being an informed citizen, local and global, at the same time, points to the fact that we are still not ready to ‘get it’ anyway. This is because however turmoiled the political arena of African states may be, we cannot relate to any of it from the heart of Europe, and because the hard time economy is having right now is still hard to grasp: the figures at which the current dealings of many developed countries are, including their debt, would still mean that we need as individuals some 31k years in which to spend USD1 a second to get there.