There is no right time to read or watch the news. Morning, afternoon, evening, night, insomnia-fueled late night, despair-ridden early morning. Nil, nought. It is too confusing and depressing. If you could put all the news of the world in a mixer, what you would get is a fine blend that reads, “The Apocalypse was yesterday. Where were you, idiot?”, along with Beethoven’s 5th, you know – the ominous-sounding one from countless scary films that goes dan dan dan dah, dan dan dan dah – playing in the background. Even Beethoven must yell from musical heaven, “I’m sick of listening to this, you fools! Put on Kendrick Lamar!”
I base my hypothesis on solid research. I have been working continually on this since the early 90s. Since before I was even literate. Predominantly, because there were only two TV channels and no cable. I watched the news when it came on, because that was all you could do at that time. I could have been playing in the garden with my cat instead, but it was all so fascinating. This person on screen, sitting with the most stern expression on her face, rattling off these difficult-sounding words that were repeated many times in the day. I liked to mimic her, only vocally because she had nothing going on facially. Just by sheer repetition, I picked up all the important goings-on in the world, if only to amuse adults by performing it afterwards. I enjoyed it, but who knows what I could have been saying?
But then, I started reading the news, a habit I maintained daily from childhood till a few months ago. I just can’t, anymore. I’ve tried, but I only have stacks of newspapers piling up, to further depress me when I think of my procrastination. If I pick them up, and see a sickly sweet chocolate commercial next to an awful crime, I have to put it down. It is not just that so many horrible things happen everyday. It is that the whole medium of the news decides to place the horrible next to the terrible, the terrible next to the unbearable, the unbearable next to the laughable, the laughable next to the wonderful, and the wonderful next to the expensive-watch-I-can’t-ever-afford-but-I-wouldn’t-have-wanted-it-anyway. There are, at least, five things screaming out “Read me! Read me” at any given time, and my mind is programmed to read, at least, two of them simultaneously. I feel scared and pitiful at the gruesome murder, but oh, a new model of a car can solve all my dental problems.
It’s even worse with the TV and the internet. After I got cable in the mid-90s and the internet a decade after, I realised the news was no more about sordid-looking people who could very well be reading Pharell’s “Happy” in monotone. It was like the newspaper, but fifty-times amplified in temptation, distractability and frustration. There was a different breaking news every 30 seconds, and the breaking news from five minutes ago was only not-that-big-deal-of-a-news now, to be shoved towards the end of the rolling text thing at the bottom of the screen. What’s more, all the colours, from the channel’s logo to the sponsor’s logo to the sponsor-of-the-hour’s logo to the speech-bubble-text about the festival-of-the-moment along with the primary video comprising of the presenter having a six-way conversation with four humans with their own mini videos, a prize dog and his wife, meant that I had to turn the whole thing off, or at least switch to another channel with only three visual elements, the primary one being the movie made on the breaking news from two minutes ago. Even though I don’t read it, I am not about to cancel my newspaper subscription.
It’s slightly better with the internet, but only because it is easier to close tabs, or get impatient with buffering videos. However, where all you can do with a TV is change channels or bang a rolled-up newspaper (that you haven’t read) on empty air because your TV set is flat now, you accidentally end up clicking things on the internet. You may be watching a news piece on recent findings on the harmful effects of sugar, only to have a lock of your hair accidentally fall on the tablet screen, taking you to a chocolate cake recipe. What’s more, things you never thought you may be interested in come up as your ‘Suggested’ topics and you feel compelled to look, even if you were happily watching your favourite Youtuber.
What’s common to all this media, and at the core of this problem, is obviously, you. You open the newspaper as you casually make breakfast in the morning and read ‘Death By Toaster’. You panic, and scald your finger as you take the piece of bread out. You read on the same page about flour causing a deadly, recently discovered disease. You drop your toast instantly, and go hungrily to your place of work. You see a good deal on a new toaster, advertised on a giant billboard by a huge website, and you order it on your phone, to be delivered before you wake up next morning. You plug it in, only to electrocute yourself fatally. You wake up and realise it was all a dream, but you decide to have eggs for breakfast anyway.
How do you handle the news?
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