Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Is no news good news?

I remember when I was a little girl, I used to want to know what would happen if there was ever a day that there was no "news." I'd ask adults and they would always disappoint me by answering that it would never happen.

I have no idea what drove that curiosity I had as a child. But the truth is that today seems like one of those days when there's no "news."

Oh, I know - there was a big earthquake on the East Coast yesterday that we're supposed to talk about. Here's my pictorial analysis of that one.


And events are still unfolding in Libya. I think BooMan might be taking it a little too far, but I also suppose he has a point in saying that we all might deserve an excessive celebration penalty.

Finally, you know its a slow news day when the lead story on The Today Show is about Hot Sauce Mom. I know those morning shows aren't known for their in-depth analysis of world events, but they at least usually try to open with something significant.

So perhaps this is what those adults were trying to tell me all those years ago. There won't ever be a day we can't dream up something to talk about. The question is whether or not it has any real significance.

It also might be the case that my brain has been affected by reading a fascinating article last night about our cultural attention deficit disorder.

Over the last several years, the problem of attention has migrated right into the center of our cultural attention. We hunt it in neurology labs, lament its decline on op-ed pages, fetishize it in grassroots quality-of-life movements, diagnose its absence in more and more of our children every year, cultivate it in yoga class twice a week, harness it as the engine of self-help empires, and pump it up to superhuman levels with drugs originally intended to treat Alzheimer’s and narcolepsy. Everyone still pays some form of attention all the time, of course—it’s basically impossible for humans not to—but the currency in which we pay it, and the goods we get in exchange, have changed dramatically.

Back in 1971, when the web was still twenty years off and the smallest computers were the size of delivery vans, before the founders of Google had even managed to get themselves born, the polymath economist Herbert A. Simon wrote maybe the most concise possible description of our modern struggle: “What information consumes is rather obvious: It consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” As beneficiaries of the greatest information boom in the history of the world, we are suffering, by Simon’s logic, a correspondingly serious poverty of attention.

So perhaps I'm storing up my attention and focus until something more interesting comes along.

1 comment:

  1. When there's no real news, the media will talk about Lindsey Lohan, celebrity diets, sports, Justin Bieber, "planking", and who was worst-dressed at the latest awards show.

    Unfortunately, they talk about those things when there is real news too.