I was reading this David Sirota post over at the HuffPo when something perhaps obvious, but at the same time quite revealing, occurred to me.
In his post, Sirota writes about how he is on vacation and had to learn how to do with out news, the internet and current events. He ended his isolation right as the media became flooded with Gerald Ford post mortems. He was annoyed at the wall-to-wall coverage that was being lavished on the death of someone he considers “unimportant” as presidents go.
At first I kind of resented that notion. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Ford presidency was important to me because he was president for 2 ½ years during a period when I was actively becoming very interested in current events. When Ford died the other night, I couldn’t get enough coverage.
Still, I know where Sirota is coming from. The story of the day, whatever it is and no matter its relative importance, is all over cable news channels, blogged about incessantly and is the topic on talk radio stations everywhere. Mountains are regularly made of molehills and if you are addicted to news and information, the attention can often be seen as just plain silly.
And that’s when it hit me. This is my (or Sirota’s or your) problem, not the problem of the media.
A huge change has occurred in the news and information media since I became interested 30+ years ago (when Gerald Ford was president). Back then, hungry for news, I would eagerly catch the half-hour network newscasts on TV. Here in Springfield they were all on at the same time: 5:30 PM. And that was about it for national news for the day on television. There was the SJ-R that landed on my parent’s porch each morning, but it came out only daily. I got weekly news magazines (how many high school kids can say that!) but that was a once a week window.
Information was much, much more limited back then and if you didn’t catch it when available, you missed out. All of the media formats were limited (sometimes VERY limited) in the depth of their coverage due to space and time considerations. Even radio had not extensively embraced the talk format and radio news was even more truncated than on television. Making things worse was the absence of the internet, cable TV and the VCR.
Nowadays there is as much information as any human could possibly want to consume available 24/7. Some of us, like Mr. Sirota and me, have been slow to recognize a need to regulate our own consumption based on what we think we need to know and what our interests are. And that’s my point. It’s up to us to decide what is and isn’t vital and useful, unlike the media of old that, due to limitations, made that decision for us. We are our own masters now when it comes to our information diet. It’s just that some us have to learn portion control.