I have a friend who’s decided to unplug herself.
No, not suicide. The opposite, actually. She is disconnecting from her television, radio and the Internet. She will no longer read a newspaper, flip through a magazine or even answer a telephone.
She’s going to an unelectrified cabin in the backwoods of Oregon where she plans to stay for three years. She will greet the next thousand-plus days having absolutely no idea what Putin is up to, who’s been beheaded in Syria, why Kim Kardashian is divorcing or what Justin Bieber has been arrested for.
It’s too radical a move for me but I sympathise. So, I suspect, would Joel Gascoigne. He’s an online blogger who has analyzed news content and concluded that following the news is toxic to our health.
According to Gascoigne, negative news stories (coups, rapes, muggings, plagues and pestilence etc.) outnumber good news stories by a ratio of seventeen to one. He argues that real life isn’t that grim and that such a diet predisposes us to paranoid expectations.
That would help to explain the story about a driver in Maryland who recently dialed 911 to report an emergency. Five police squad cars sped to the scene where two children, aged 10 and six were…
…walking down the street unsupervised.
The police bundled the kids into the backseat of a cruiser and drove them home where they lectured the father for neglect.
Dad — bless him — responded: “What are you talking about? I dropped my kids off at the park and they were walking home.”
I hate to use the old geezer chestnut that begins “When I was a kid…” but when I was a kid I’d have been lucky to get a ride to the park in the first place.
Our parents turned us loose after breakfast and didn’t expect to see us until dinner time. They didn’t give a thought to child molesters, kidnappers or creeps in stained trench coats — and you know what? Nothing bad happened. We were fine.
Is the world more dangerous today? Emphatically not. Studies show that North Americans live in the most peaceable kingdom in history. You’d never guess it from the news. I remember when we got the news from guys who sounded (and looked) like your wise uncle (Walter Cronkite, Earl Cameron, Lloyd Robertson).
Now, CBC Radio employs a frenetic, hyper-excited promo guy who comes on before the news sounding like Alvin the Chipmunk on Benzedrine. I often miss the newscast because I hit the kill switch as soon as I hear his adenoidal “COMING UP!!! AFTER THE NEWS!!!”
Me and thousands of others. “The Sky Is Falling” approach to news is turning off readers, listeners and watchers in droves.
Mind you, it still works for some practitioners. The Harper Government is deftly surfing a wave of fear mongering and sabre rattling to what it hopes will be another election victory. Ottawa spent $16 million glorifying the War of 1812 but not a single beaver-backed nickel to address the problem of climate change. Are we as dumb as they think?
But listen to me — I’m scratching away at the very rash I’ve been complaining about. Ignore my moans. Listen instead to my friend who sent a message just before she headed off on her backwoods retreat. She invited me to keep in touch by snail mail, but:
“Just don’t tell me anything about killing, war and violence. That, I don’t want to hear about!”
— Arthur Black lives on Saltspring Island. His column appears Tuesday in The NEWS. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org