Saturday, May 1, 2010

Why do you follow the news?

A few years ago, a friend I played ultimate frisbee with in Ann Arbor, asked me that question.

"Why do you follow the news?"

I bumbled a five-minute response, which was sprinkled with phrases like "it is a good habit", "we do not live in isolation", "it allows me to respond to emergencies", and other such platitudes.

Truth be revealed: I thought my answer was pathetic, and figured that if I really thought about the question for sometime, I would be able to come up with something less wimpy.

Part of the obsession to stay on top of the news was certainly an addiction. Reading the news/blogs was a daily fix. But addictions are hard to defend. So I gave up on that.

Part of the motivation was very pedestrian: reading the news helped with small-talk, which, while easy to belittle, lubricates conversations with people, just outside your first circle of friends. For example, following college football closely, allowed me to engage people I shared nothing else with, for long hours. Following a little celebrity gossip, likewise, had some twisted merit.

"Hmm, I may be getting somewhere with this",  I thought. I tried to generalize that sentiment into something grand: "following the news helps us participate in a shared culture", or some such BS.

But even that approach had a problem.

If that "shared culture" was being synthesized by the popular media (which I don't have a very high regard for), then perhaps it really wasn't that desirable!

In the end, I came up with something that went along the lines of, "We live in a democracy. Leaders that we elect, influence our futures. The process of choosing our leaders is best served, if we are aware of the world. Ergo."

Wimpy, I know.

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