'Matter of Laugh or Death,' the award-winning humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
INFORMATION OVERLOAD REACHING CRITICAL MASS
Iím reaching the point of information overload. Itís impossible these days to keep up with news and current events. When I try to stay informed about important issues, I feel like Lucy Ricardo when she went to work at a candy factory. The more I try to keep up with the latest news reports, the faster the media conveyor belt keeps throwing data at me. I try to gather it all inóalthough I donít stuff it in my mouth and down my shirt like Lucyóbut itís no use. Iím ready to scream, ďEthel! Help!Ē
The number of news outlets has skyrocketed in the last decade or so. There are, of course, the traditional TV networks, but we now have a vast array of 24-hour cable news channels, and there are countless radio stations, newspapers, magazines, and 17-zillion Internet websites devoted to sharing important news (occasionally, some of which is accurate).
Even the phone company has gotten into the act. For a fee, theyíll send text messages of breaking news headlines right to my cell phone. This service must be for those rare occasions when I am not near a TV, radio, or computer, and simply cannot wait ten more minutes for a news report. Although now that I think about it, the last time I was not within earshot of a TV, radio, or computer was sometime in early 1986.
This information overload phenomenon has two major distinguishing features. First, there is an obsession with being the first to present a particular story. Last month I saw a commercial for a local TV station which proudly proclaimed, ďYesterday, Eyewitness Action News was the first to tell you about a Hartford-area man killed in a hit and run accident.Ē Well, yes, thatís true, they were the first to tell me. Although in their haste to be the first on the air with the story, they got one fact slightly wrong. It was not a Hartford-area man who was killed in a hit and run accident, it was a Hartford-area cat. But they were first with the story, and thatís all that seems to matter.
In the race to be first, some news outlets are planning to broadcast stories before they occur. They figure if the stories never materialize, oh well, it wonít hurt their accuracy rate all that much, and at least they can proudly proclaim they were first.
The second distinguishing feature of the non-stop media is that there is no ranking of the stories by importance. Every piece of news is presented as if it is the most earth-shattering story ever. Not too long ago I watched a TV reporter discuss the latest plan for achieving peace in the Middle East. It was presented in a very serious and urgent tone. Immediately after this, another reporter came on and presented a story, also in a very serious and urgent tone, about a chicken rancher in Vermont who gets higher egg production from his hens when he sings opera to them. Both stories were broadcast as if they were of equal importance, even though everyone knows one story is fairly meaningless while the other story can have a major impact on many peopleís lives. (More eggs will feed more people. This is big news. Peace in the Middle East? Yeah sure, thatíll happen when Yasser Arafat starts singing opera to chickens.)
Iím getting burnt out trying to keep up with this daily tidal wave of information. For my own peace of mind, I have to cut back. From now on Iím only going to pay attention to stories about important power struggles, financial scandals, and barbaric behavior. Thatís right, like most other Americans, from now on Iím only going to pay attention to Hollywood celebrity news.
I mean, come on, there are only so many hours in the day and only so many brain cells in my head. All that blah blah blah about politics, taxes, and the economy isnít as important as Tom Cruiseís love life, is it?
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