Whenever I’m babysitting a child under the age of about six, I’m careful to quickly avert my gaze if they ever trip or bump into something. Children, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, are notorious for reacting based on how their audience responds. If the young’un doesn’t think I saw what happened, they tend to evaluate how they actually feel instead of crying because they think that’s what they are supposed to do. If they continue playing, I know it was a minor bump. If they cry, alrighty, that actually hurt or scared them, let’s see what we can do.
Children have pretty short attention spans.
So do adults.
Let’s just take a moment to think about how absurdly noisy 2016 has been.
The Zika virus. The Brussels terrorist attack. The Summer Olympics in Brazil. The Orlando nightclub shooting. North Korea launching it’s largest nuclear test yet. Brexit. The US Presidential circus. The Baby Boomer celebrities starting to die in droves. Standing Rock protests. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile followed by the Dallas police shooting. Flint. Flint, Michigan was declared a state of emergency this year!
It’s been brutal.
For the less dire:
The iPhone 7 release. Pokemon Go. Finding the gene linked to ALS. The Cubs win the World Series. Leo finally won an Oscar.
It’s been busy.
The world is constantly turning, and we are constantly learning. Sometimes I wonder if we learn so fast that we remember nothing. Kind of crazy to realize we still have almost two months left in this year, huh?
According to legend, and perhaps even fact, on April 18, 1930, the BBC looked at the world around it. They then turned around and declared, “There is no news to report today” and proceeded to play music for the duration of the broadcast. Can. You. Even. Imagine?
My alarm goes off in the morning, and as I go to shut it off I swipe through Twitter stories and Facebook notifications. I drive past emergency vehicles with lights flashing on my commute with NPR catching me up on the latest stories in my state, country, and world. My mom forwards me newsletters from her financial advisors. My friends text me asking if I’ve seen this, heard about that, we really need to talk about the nonsense of this over here. Even making small talk with a cashier turns into tidbits about the storm due that evening or the animal shelter opening down the street.
I feel like everything around me is news.
It makes it so easy to forget, and to realize that just because my world moves on, keeps on spinning and absorbing new information doesn’t mean that these stories stop. Cubs fans will probably be celebrating for another 108 years. Families are still mourning the loss of their loved ones. Protestors are still being jailed in North Dakota. And dear Lord, we still have two days left of this never-ending election.
And yet, in three days we’ll be talking about Black Friday. Actually, come to think of it, I’ve already seen an article or two about various malls remaining closed until after midnight and REI has already sponsored a few ads for “opt outside”. So look, didn’t even have to wait for one monster to fade into oblivion for another one to start rearing its ugly head.
When I was a kid, I somehow discovered that one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, died on the same day as JFK. Even in my youth, I just knew that the creator of Narnia wouldn’t have been given proper recognition for his life and death because the world would turn its eyes to the popular, handsome president. Just now, when I googled their names to make sure I was remembering it properly, I realized that Aldous Huxley, author of monumental Brave New World, also passed away that day. Sounds a lot like 2016, eh? Who gets top billing? Who does the world care about the most? It seems like we only have the mental capacity to deal with one tragedy at a time, even though each of these men shaped society significantly. I’ve known several people whose birthday fall on 9/11 – their day of joy spent a solid decade eclipsed by mourning.
Everything is a constant battle for attention, a constant demanding for ratings, for clicks, for shares and likes. It’s an eclipse: what is bigger, shinier, more tragic, more shocking. We tear into people’s lives and demand they give up their privacy for our curiosity, demand answers to questions we had no business in asking. But funding for our cause only comes from the circus, legislation for our protection only comes from making noise, and the rise to fame or infamy comes with this sacrifice.
So here comes another story, here comes another insight, here comes someone with only the vaguest connection to the center clamoring to be heard. But it’s not enough, because there’s always something new. Even today’s brightest color can’t compete with tomorrow’s glitter. We move on, we forget, we are constantly sampling but never satiated. We form opinions based on headlines and get in bitter fights because we think we know better – all the polls say so.
The headlines are like the children. They make a noise and then look around to see if we’re watching. If we give them no heed, they’ll move on. Children have short attention spans. So do we. The media reacts to us: giving us more of what we beg for. This isn’t interesting enough, this isn’t new enough, this isn’t controversial enough.
Oh, dear 2016. You’ve been trained well. Every time we respond to your desperate cries for attention, you give us exactly what we ask for. You give us more pain, more divisiveness, more curiosity. As we roar in anger, you give us more and more. We have become the monster: we’re looking in a mirror.
Oh, you have been brutal.
But that’s exactly what we asked for.
Perhaps, just once, CNN will come on air.
November 10, 2016: There is no news today. Please enjoy the music.