How the 24-hour news cycle is killing us.
Quickness is the god of the moment. One need only scan the trending stories to understand that the world’s citizens are bowing in front of the altar of what is newer and faster. The advent of social media and rapid influx of information available has only exacerbated this reality, incentivizing the press to pride itself on reporting not necessarily what is true, only if it is reported first. The onslaught of the daily news cycle, coupled with the technological explosion at the beginning of this century, has maximized the wealth of information available and accessible to all persons. News commentators advance the conviction that this unparalleled access to information is advantageous to society. The fact is this access is dangerous and detrimental, with unforeseen and undetectable consequences. The twenty-four-hour news cycle is killing us.
News outlets have afforded us the remarkable ability to commiserate with the happenings and persons from around the globe, yet they have also compounded our loss of presence and removed us from the moment. The technology that promises global networking and social connectedness has, in fact, made us more disconnected than ever. With our access to stories relating to anyone, anywhere, at any time, we have simultaneously lost the art of engaging those in our proximity. News correspondents offer the latest “breaking” story in an effort to inform and as a means to inspire human connectivity. Nevertheless, the irony of the influx of news from remote locations is the loss of camaraderie and community. Instead of conversing with family or friends, we are inundated with a “constant flow of nonessential information,” writes J. Wesley Baker.
Moreover, what is often presented as “breaking news” is nothing more than “elevated gossip.” “There’s this idea,” says Loretta Breuning, “of following the news in order to be an informed citizen, but a lot of what you see today is gossip elevated to a sophisticated level.” The news deteriorates our mental, emotional, and spiritual capacities by filling it with irrelevant stories that tantalize the senses. We are misled into forming opinions about events which we are given little to no context, and are often irrelevant to our immediate environment. Our minds have become conditioned to continuous updating and refreshing. As a result, there no longer exists a discernment for what is relevant, only what is new. “A man caught up in the news,” writes Jacques Ellul, “must remain on the surface of the event; he is carried along in the current and can at no time take a respite to judge and appreciate; he can never stop to reflect.” Facile knowledge of an event without context or contemplation does not necessarily lead one into greater enlightenment.
Too much news makes us angry. There is a difference between “being informed” and “anticipating outrage.” The majority of society lives in the reality of the latter. News stories are gobbled up in the quest to find the latest evidence that one’s indignation is, in fact, righteous—whether it is factual or not. For instance, the malignant qualities of rapid and rudimentary information were exposed in the recent excoriation of a Chicago Cubs fan. During the fourth inning of a regular season contest, the Cubs’ first base coach fielded a foul ball and lobbed it into the stands to reward a young fan. This practice is unremarkable in itself, but this time the ball in question fell beneath the seat of the youngster and was quickly grabbed by another middle-aged fan sitting nearby. Cameras captured this little moment, which quickly turned into a scandal as news sites descended upon the episode. The public’s outrage increased in velocity the more the moment was shared, with some even petitioning the Cubs to ban the man for his baseball thievery. The failure of the news is obvious, however, once the context of the story is brought to light. What was learned later was that this same middle-aged fan had rewarded the same young fan with another foul ball in a prior inning. There was no thievery. Additionally, he had already assisted two other young fans get baseballs as well. Even the infamous foul ball in question that was seemingly stolen was quickly celebrated and then gifted to another young fan. The man who was virally being outcast for stealing a baseball was nothing of the sort. With the sheer influx of news available, there are more stories with which to read and formulate opinions. As such, there is a bevy of material with which to bemoan the days.
Too much news disorients our view of the present moment. If one were to skim through the trending headlines on any of the major news outlets, it might appear that the entire globe is plunging further and further into worldwide crisis. “On any given day,” writes Alexandra Pattillo, “it feels like the world is falling apart.” Seldom are we told today that information has a downside. The presupposition remains that the more informed one becomes, the more intelligent one is. However, as Markham Heid writes in Time, “more than half of Americans say the news causes them stress, and many report feeling anxiety, fatigue, or sleep loss as a result.” In an essay entitled, “Avoid News: Towards a Healthy News Diet,” Rolf Dobelli asserts that “news is to the mind what sugar is to the body.” What tastes sweet and good to the body can become toxic if overindulged. The toxicity of news is derived from the rapidity with which we intake information. It is an untraceable assassin, intensified not only by the quality of the news but the quantity available. Susanne Babbel, a professional psychotherapist, explains that our bodies instinctually go into “stress mode” whenever they are told of devastating events. “We might go numb or have an overactive fear response to the perceived threat,” she says. “Our physiology is triggered to release stress hormones like cortisol.” These stress related hormones “have been linked to inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease and other serious health concerns,” continues Heid. Once the impending peril or harrowing situation is rectified, however, the body is designed to return to a state of rest. Yet with increased exposure to a litany of distressing happenings from around the world, each with no clear resolution, the body endures this chemical process more frequently and at a faster pace, interrupting the restful rhythms it was created to experience.
Too much news is making us tired. We are chronically overloaded with reports and information on every known statistic and story in existence. As our access to information has increased, our attention has diminished in corresponding degrees. There is no longer such a thing as “downtime.” The news is intentionally intrusive. It breaks the natural patterns of rest and recovery necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The relaxation and leisure that is often sought after is filled with the bedlam of pundits and analysts weighing in on the next seminal story in world history. “There is a fundamental need for a timeout,” continues J. Wesley Baker, “to regain a connection to things likely to be lost in the constant flow of information in our new media environment.” The meteoric rise of instant news and information has all but rendered the traditional disconnected vacation extinct. As such, stress levels are up, as are anxiety and depression, and sleep patterns are down. Every fiber of our being is affected when the divine design of God is cast aside in favor of what is new.
“Choosing quiet over chaos, rest over rat race, is fundamentally a spiritual discipline,” says Milton Becknell. With a Judeo-Christian perspective on the news, one finds himself benefited by the lack of interruption and intrusion the news has on his life because he is living in the assurance that God is the lone sustainer of the universe. Irrespective of what story or scandal leads the nightly news, the God of the Bible remains sovereign over every current event. He disrupts our distraction to remind us to sleep soundly with the belief that nothing is outside of his sovereignty. As Richard Swenson summarizes it: “Don’t worry,” he seems to whisper to us, “I’ll keep an eye on the universe.”