“Speculation is the enemy of calm.”
Those words spoken by Miss Deborah Jenkyns, a stalwart character in the British television series Cranford, seem incredibly relevant today.
Indeed, our media culture is fraught with “what ifs” as it unleashes a torrent of speculation at the smallest sneeze in the world of politics, national and world affairs, sports, and entertainment. News is no longer purely news, but analysis and conjecture repeated in a never-ending cycle that leaves us exhausted and frazzled, even as we continue to consume and even gorge ourselves on the content.
The realization that much of what we were seeing and hearing is little more than repetition and speculation, has led our household to reduce its consumption of what passes for news. Like people who change their diets to improve nutrition, we are limiting and altering our intake of information to include what we need to live.
First, we stopped our satellite TV service, and most recently, ended the satellite radio service in the car. We turn the TV on early in the morning long enough to catch a weather forecast and a smattering of local news, ignoring the plea from the network to stay tuned because “in times like these,” we need their morning news show more than ever. At other times, the TV is on only if there is something we have decided in advance to view. In the car, we still use the radio, but less often as we are beginning to enjoy silence as a pleasing alternative. Meanwhile, our Internet usage also has become more purpose-driven and less of an opportunity for recreational browsing. We still consume news, but more often from the radio and magazines, newspapers, and newsletters delivered by mail.
Although my husband instigated cutting ties with our satellite radio and TV providers — and I acquiesced somewhat reluctantly — I am reaping the benefits of having closed these two portals as I experience increased quiet and reduced cerebral clutter. For me, a second influence in moving in this direction has been my exposure to the Carthusian monks and their austere lives of silence and solitude (See Cloisters amid the Clamor). When I had the opportunity several months ago to interview an author who wrote Report from Calabria about his stay at a Carthusian monastery in Italy, I was struck anew by how these monks manage to maintain a connection to the world without being overwhelmed by it. Though removed
from the kind of life most of us live, they know something of its events through the news imparted to them by their superior and through notes placed on message boards asking them to pray for certain needs. “So they’re not completely out of touch,” the author told me, “but they don’t get the bombardment of information or misinformation that we get.”
His choice of words certainly describes how many of us have come to feel about the onslaught of news that strafes our contemporary lives. There is so much information – and indeed, misinformation – coming from so many sources that we often feel battered by it because we simply cannot absorb or digest all that is available to us. Some of us have reacted by shutting out the news of the day and consuming only what entertains. Others get hooked on what seems to be news, checking myriad sources constantly and driving those around us – or on our email lists and Facebook and Twitter feeds – to distraction with our forwards, posts, and Tweets.
The Carthusians, it seems, have found a happy middle. That they manage to distill what is essential from the churning waters of “breaking news,” “live reports,” and social media gives me hope that we, too, can retain some sense of what is happening in our world without suffering shell shock. Just as they consume what is necessary for their life of prayer, so we can sift through the news and find what we most need to know for our lives.
More and more, that is what I am doing: sorting and sifting in a fashion that has become almost automatic, gleaning what I need to know and skimming over the interminable analysis and speculation, knowing it to be mostly unproductive. Before I listen, click, or watch, I am asking, “Do I really need to know this for my work and my obligations this day? Do I need to be alarmed or informed? Stimulated or prepared? Entertained and distracted or edified?”
Increasingly, the answers are taking me into a place of peace. My exposure to and consumption of news and media still far exceeds that of the monks at Calabria, but by eliminating some points of access and limiting entry into others, I am better able to digest what I do read, watch, or hear.