Extremely Foreword: Always On Syndrome
30 Jun 2023

Here’s a scenario.

World War 3 breaks out. You’d want to know. But will it help if you do, is there any advantage if you find out first, or before someone else? I’m not talking about if you are the SecDef or the President or the PM or something. Just another guy or gal, like most of us, toiling away, leaving the cave, killing something and dragging it back home so the pups can eat. What advantage do you have finding out that the world is at war? What exactly are you going to do about it?

I know in your head you might go all Navy Seal and you could even see a future resembling the next season of The Walking Dead in which you, personally, lead your neighbours to safety like a modern day Moses, through a landscape that looks like a Mad Max set… But even if that is the case finding out the night before anyone else because you watched the news, it still won’t help you.

Assume a pre-emptive nuclear strike on your suburb by the evil other side. Suppose you get a 15 minute warning on the news.

So what? What difference will it make. You still won’t make it out in time, especially if Bob next door and that shiksa and her antisocial brood down the road are clogging the main routes out because they heard the same broadcast on the wireless…

And the above illustration of futility is in the unlikely event that there is actual news.

More likely scenario.

Supreme Court strikes down Affirmative Action. You ALREADY KNOW what your side will say, and you also ALREADY KNOW what the other side is going to say, and that goes for both the politicians and the media platforms supporting them. Everything after the first 6 words of this paragraph is a total waste of your time – but be assured it is going to drag on for weeks. Weeks of hyperbole, caricature, inaccuracies, half-truths and just plain lies – swirling around on every screen you watch, every beamed out message you consume, every paper or mag you pick up. Only to eventually coalesce into two diametrically opposed consensi (is that the plural of concensus?). Well done you! It’s wonderful to be informed. Knowing what’s going on in the world is a virtue.

Even more likely scenario.

Something big is happening in the world – big enough to get its own logo. The relevant Minister is supposed to have a press conference – and we’re going to cut, live to the White House (or equivalent) any second. In the meantime, your two favourite presenters have a bar counter full of talking heads on tap to pour ”insights” from – if you are a news junkie you’re likely to know the talking heads well by now, they always use the same ones. From your presenters – the coy foreplay of objectivity, to try and convince you and themselves that this network you prefer is more balanced and fair than any of those other snowflakes or Nazis on the other channels.

From the talking heads – smug expressions as they repeat punchy as possible one liners they practiced in the mirror so that you can put down your fork as its midway to your mouth and declare: By George, this guy KNOWS what he’s talking about, and he sure tells it like it is.

And then of course, YOU know how it is, don’t you, because you already knew what he was going to say before he said it.

Oh wait- we’re cutting to the reporter, live on scene:

“Good evening Jim, Sarah. I am standing here at the White House, as you can see, because behind me you can see, well, the White House. I’m holding a mic and I’m on camera and you can sense there’s a lot of activity around me – other reporters – but I dominate my own little screen because this is our network and I’m brining you this breaking news. Mind you, behind me, the White House itself sits there like a marble mausoleum in Turkmenistan – there’s no activity at all to be seen anywhere, and even the crickets are silent – but we’re still going to be here, posing in front of it, so that we can pounce the moment something happens.”

Anchor askes something about what it’s like to be standing there.

“Well, Jim, it’s too early to tell, really. We are waiting for something to happen, and we’ll be here until it does, and when it does, rest assured we’ll tell you. Until it does, we’re standing here – ready and waiting.”

Other Anchor says – Stay safe and Godspeed.

“Thank you Sarah. We’re unsure of exactly when that important person is going to make the speech, and analysts expect that the important person’s speech will be very important, and a speech, and until we hear what that speech will be it will be premature of us to speculate – but we’re here, at the White House, because at some point we absolutely know there will be an important speech. Of that we are certain. Back to you guys in the studio.”

Which is invariably followed by “Thank you Steve, our reporter outside the White House tonight, not speculating but ready to bring you the news as it happens.” Then she turns and asks: “Professor Smith – what can we reasonably expect from this important speech given all the important speeches you’ve listened to?”

And then there’s another scenario, a likely one, so likely I guarantee you’ve personally experienced it.

Assume, for whatever freak accident of a reason, that the politicians behave.

It’s a slow news day.

The market isn’t plunging or rallying, it’s just kinda meh… There is no war or it’s not particularly stimulating at the moment… no one has made a blunder, or a scandal.

By rights, for this one day out of the year, or the last five years, really, Jim and Sarah could surely come on, and say to us: “You know what? Things are pretty quiet for a change. The sun is shining. Go outside. Enjoy actual reality for a bit, see you tomorrow!”

Nope. Never happened.

Why?

Because on days like that, slow news days, we drag out the juicy and salacious stuff.

Father Kills Whole Family – Including Twin Toddlers – And Self With Axe.

Or something good, just like that. Some totally freakish, outlandish, perverse, weird, fringe oddity – mined from whichever part of the world happened to have it lying around at that time – so that it can be brought into the mainstream and paraded around for the psyches of those watching, listening and reading. It is true – it did happen – it is recent, even ongoing – but it is a freak event that does not represent society, the world, reality or the times – but you have to know about it.

And knowing that – learning about it – makes you shake your head and say – THE WORLD HAS GONE BATMANURE CRAZY!

But its not the world.

The world is still as it always was… some good folks, some bad ones, a handful of freaks, millions of regular folks just trying their best to get by, or thrive, or survive, or cope, or live. The vast majority of people, of all kinds, even the ones you don’t like, think the axe man is as crazy as you do, can’t understand it any more than you do, don’t approve of it, agree with it, feel as grossed out or weirded out as you do.

The introduction of this bizarre event into the human collective – in the context not of entertainment but as news – is not news.

The problem is Always On syndrome. If there is always an audience, in a competitive environment – then all 24 hours of the cycle must be filled. With something. With anything.

Working my way through all the scenarios, I think the solve may not simply be to take a break. I’ve been doing that already, doesn’t seem to work.

For the sake of my own headspace, my own heart, and feeling grounded in actual reality and the world as it is…

Perhaps the news should take a break, instead, The other way around. Don’t switch the news off occasionally. Switch it on occasionally instead. Once a week, I’ll open that Pandoran Box of news, views and current affairs. I’ll take a nice whiff for 60 minutes, and then I’ll shut it off, take a bath, walk outside, and reclaim my head as my own.

Anyone with me?