News is a distraction from the things that really matter

Sunday , March 25, 2018 - 4:00 AM2 comments

E. KENT WINWARD, special to the Standard-Examiner

Novelty generates interest and excitement. Repetition creates boredom and indifference. We want things new and fresh, so we flock to "the new" in our consumerist hunger: books, movies, music, television, the newest hair and clothing-style crazes. We're addicted to novelty. When we go to Costco or Best Buy, we go to find the newest foodstuffs or the most tricked-out gadgets they have to offer. We subscribe to the newspaper, not the oldspaper.

Even within our collective reaction to history-changing disasters, we focus on the most recent, which then supplants a prior catastrophe. Dec. 7 no longer lives in infamy because Sept. 11 is now supercharged and fixed within more recent generations’ memory. Columbine gave way to Sandy Hook, which gave way to Parkland. Hurricanes Katrina, then Sandy, surrendered to Maria. Our fickle societal focus doesn't mitigate the previous disaster’s impact on the people directly involved. However, these shifts do represent our constant fascination with "the new."

I wonder if we do ourselves a disservice by our constant fixation on what's novel. If society attended a meditation retreat, the even-tempered instructor would probably have a meltdown and run screaming from the serene, seafoam-color room, because we'd all be acting like a bunch of sugar-infused Kindergarteners after someone opened the cages of the class pets (two lizards, a snake and three mice). Collectively, it seems, we're incapable of focusing on anything for more than a nanosecond. The constant stream of news through our phones, computers, feeds, and televisions is a distraction. These distractions not only impact our everyday existences, they detract from the most meaningful things in our lives and our communities.

I could write about the $1.3 trillion budget passed this week, the budget that buys us a little time for a few months before the inevitable government shutdown talk begins again

Or I could jump on the Facebook data-breach bandwagon and urge everyone to get off social media and to more rigorously protect their privacy. Or I could opine on how we should regulate technology companies so they don’t abuse all the information culled from data-crunching our social interactions.

However, if I've been fortunate enough to hold your attention this far, my voice is probably little more than another stray note in the dissonant symphony we call “news.” The "new" news comes at us so fast, we can only comment on it like sports commentators watching the game. But no sweat trickles down the sportscaster’s brow as he strives to entertain and engage viewers as he describes the happenings on the court. He has no influence on the game. Just like me and other columnists who spout off in the paper. We don't change anything, including minds. Whatever we write, no matter how controversial the subjects, readers, like sports fans, respond with predetermined opinions, based on whatever side of the political arena they've chosen, surrounded by other screaming fans, rooting for their team.

The news is a river flowing around us, but it doesn’t even nudge us out of its path as we wake up, make breakfast and go about our day. The river of news may fork into news of trouble and danger, or entertainment news and novelty. Entertainment news is the spoonful of sugar that allows us to absorb all the “bad” news without getting so uncomfortable that we aren’t entertained. We want to wade in the warm waters of novelty news as we watch the rabid rapids of trouble from a distance.

Yet most of our existence remains in the daily grind of common events, not the events we call “news.” Despite all our focus on "the new," our true humanity and ability to progress comes from our daily efforts and making unseen, new improvements. We change the world by doing things that we don’t talk about in newspapers: day-to-day choices that add something positive to our communities, and living lives not just for "you and yours," or "me and mine," but for the good of all. This is not a new idea, by any stretch.

And that kind of novelty, those small changes we make in that direction, is what makes up our life, our communities, and our very human connection to each other. Not "the new," and certainly not the news.

So what was I going for today? Something new. A new way to think about news, our lives and communities — and an old way to do something about them.

E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. Twitter: @KentWinward.

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