I recently downloaded an RSS feed reader, and I compulsively loaded it with sites to scan. Now, every time I turn the damn thing on, several times a day, I have several hundred news articles waiting for me. I don't find it liberating. I find it to be oppressive and disturbing. It's like playing a jackpot machine. What am I looking for? Why is so much of this stuff the same? Why do all political stories seem to fall under pretty much the same framework? If several times a day we learn from Fark that some one has done something unusual with a goat or a duck can it continue to be unusual? Do unusual things not happen in our own lives? Do people really like Wonkette? I don't. Why has everyone except for one bright blogger from St. Louis said pretty much the same, short-sighted stuff about the Newsweek situation? What's the point of all this crap? And why am I contributing to it? Is this a conversation? If I write a story and it's distributed to X readers, what is the point of that story? I am reading 1984. Newsfire reminds me of the Ministry of Truth where Winston Smith worked.
Recently, I watched a documentary about Jacque Derrida. In it, he quoted Heideger (I think) about Aristotle's (I think) life: "'He was born, he thought and he died.' And anything else is just anecdote." Then Derrida said that perhaps the best or truest biographer is one who takes a very small passage from a person's body of work and interprets that rigorously and deeply. There was another scene where he shows the film makers his library. It is full of books. Derrida admitted he had not read all of them. Just three or four, he joked. "But I read those very well."
But then, what could be more powerful than anecdote? I feel as though I am living a story, as I believe all humans do. And it is this sense of narrative, I think, which potentially binds us, which possibly melts away difference. The playwrite Terrence wrote is one of his plays: "I am human, therefore nothing human is foreign to me." And this is one of my favorite quotes (though when I first learned of it, in college, I was mistakenly told that it came from Mircea Eliade, whose work I should probably read. Which is why I'm a journalist, I suppose. I want to find that connection.
But still, why so much? And why be drawn to such a repellent fire of over saturation? Allie and I sometimes joke that we'll stay on the Internet long past the time we'd really like to, racking our brains to come up with search terms which might lead us to something interesting. It's really a frustrating place to be, because it can be so difficult to find it. Indeed, the stuff that really rocks us has been your traditional substantive media, books, documentaries, quality movies.
So I wonder if all this proliferation of media isn't really just more of the same: Not much different from a greater and greater consolodation of information because in the fragmentation it really ceases to matter and it pulls us away from the things that would, which require much more investment of time and effort. I wonder if amid so much information we're actually getting less. Or, at very least, if that information is actually disempowering us.
Indeed, the most interesting thing I read on my NewsBonFire was a bit about how the more we know the stupider we get. With so much information to juggle,m we are forced to categorize more and more, and, from what I've read recently, categorization is a concept that's batted around quite a bit by psychologists, and that it has quite a bit to do with our inate, or supposedly inate, prejudices and bigotry (KCC debate evidence).
But then, what else are we going to do? So long as it's there, can we really expect ourselves not to take a peek? And then another peek? And then another? After all, if I hadn't looked in the fire, I wouldn't have found that piece about thinking, which will probably stick with me for a long, long time.