Something Terrible May Have Happened: Stay Tuned!
We’ve gotta have our news the moment it occurs—even if it doesn’t!
Posted Aug 29, 2010
Heck, I didn't mind the delay to my appearance. That goes with the territory of TV news. But it did make me feel sorry for the people who were watching. They were led through the rollercoaster emotions of anxiety about a possible crash and empathy with the passengers, all for what turned out to be a non-event.
This incident makes me think more about how our digital culture has affected our need for the news. In our "gotta know it now" culture," we don't just have TV and radio. With the Internet, we have instantaneously updated websites and Twitter to keep us on top of everything even faster. And we can get email alerts about our selected topics and even texts on our cell phones when we're away from our laptops.
Because we CAN know about something as soon as it happens we feel we MUST know it NOW. This leads us to be interrupted constantly by things that may not be that important or urgent—and even by "developing" stories that turn out to be non-stories.
Our digital devices have caused us to lose all patience. We not only need to know NOW; we can no longer even bear to wait if a particular web site loads slowly. This might not be such a problem if keeping abreast of the latest happenings were our only goal in life. Fortunately, for most people, it is not. But needing to know everything the moment it happens certainly interferes with our getting things done.
Unnecessary interruptions are anathema to productivity.(3) Information overload interferes with creativity.(4) And all this gratuitous exposure to vicarious emotional experience unnecessarily increases stress.(5)
One thing we can do is try to figure out what types of information are essential to learn the moment they happen—things like a tornado headed your way; toxic fumes being released in your area; your child needing to be picked up because of a playground injury—and which other things are just as valuable to hear about later. If we can arrange our lives so that the urgent gets through, while the merely interesting gets delayed until we're ready for it, we'll be much better off. We can make the most of our digital devices while allowing our brains the time and space to think, enjoy life, and accomplish something.
For more tips on creating a digital environment for ourselves that fosters our goals and our mental health, read Conquer CyberOverload: Get More Done, Boost Your Creativity, and Reduce Stress.
(1) CBS News (2010). Delta plane makes emergency landing in Atlanta. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/07/22/national/main6703218.shtml
(2) J. H. Goldstein, Ed. (1998). Why we watch: The attractions of violent entertainment. Oxford University Press.
(3) Spira, J.B., & Feintuch, J. B. (2005). The cost of not paying attention: how interruptions impact knowledge worker productivity. http://bsx.stores.yahoo.net/coofnotpaat.html
4) Lehrer, J. (2008, July 28). The eureka hunt: Why do good ideas come to us when they do? The New Yorker, 40-45; Wagner, U., Gais, S., Haider, H., Verleger, R., & Born, J. (2004). Sleep improves insight. Nature, 427, 352-355.
5) For example, Johnson, J. G., Cohen, P., Kasen, S., First, M. B., & Brook, J. S. (2004). Association between television viewing and sleep problems during adolescence and early adulthood. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 158, 562-568.