Explanation of why I’m avoiding the news
Sunday 1st October – Mass Distraction
I nearly failed before I started. It’s a habit for me to check Twitter, to browse news sites and flick through the latest updates online before I even get out of bed. However, I resisted the urge to look at the latest disaster from Trump and got ready for the day. Having driven my husband to work, I started planning out what I needed to do next. I quickly realised I had an abundance of time in which to do my household chores.
So of course I went back to bed, intermittently snoozing and playing mobile games for three hours. I wanted to distract myself, and so sleep became my refuge. I started to understand how much I used news sites and social media to avoid doing things I didn’t want to.
That shouldn’t be a shock, but it made me think about just why I was so invested in keeping up to date with the latest events. Was it really so I could engage in the world, or because I just didn’t want to clean the toilet and deal with life in general? The answer was a little from column A, but honestly quite a lot from column B.
I tidied up (which I’m sure my mum will be pleased to hear), did some gardening, went food shopping, and then watched a movie. I read a little, wrote up a review I’d been working on, and then picked up Ben. I even cooked dinner for us, which is kind of a rarity (I am not a good cook and once nearly killed my Gran with an incredibly soggy Victoria sponge. It was so dense it lodged in her throat and half-choked her).
I just don’t think it had ever occurred to me how much I was whiling away my time scrolling through news or Twitter feeds. Without having something to occupy my mind, I had to actually, y’know, do things.
Monday will be the real challenge as it’s hard to walk through London without seeing some headline flash past. I’m also starting to feel worried about what I’m not aware of. I’ve heard this called FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), which is an anxiety that you’re not involved in some exciting or interesting event taking place at that moment. For someone who’s never relished social interactions, it seems so strange that I would actually miss this.
Monday 2nd October – What We Do
This morning, I downloaded a Podquisition episode from several weeks ago in order to listen to something in the morning. It’s a humorous podcast containing news, but only on video games (it’s also fairly NSFW, if you do decide to check it out). I justified this potential perversion of the rules by silently arguing with myself that, as the podcast was now a few weeks out of date, it didn’t technically constitute “news”. Right?
I sighed and admitted I was trying to pull a fast one, before grumpily deleting Podquisition off my phone. Instead, I looked for some story-based podcasts. Apart from the standard Welcome to Night Vale, I’ve been hearing good things about the Steal the Stars podcast, so have downloaded a few episodes to try it out. Frankly, they had me at “noir science fiction”, so I have high hopes.
Work was fine, chatting about the weekend’s past personal events. I found myself having to look up one piece of news as a colleague mentioned an imminent train and tube strike. That felt justifiable because otherwise I’d be stranded in London (or, God forbid, Shenfield) without a way home.
On the commute back, I found my eye drawn to newspaper headlines. Something about Las Vegas and some new, horrific tragedy. I stopped myself reading further. It was hard to do this as wilful ignorance is, for me, the same as saying you don’t care.
I found myself thinking about Grenfell and just what it would say about me as a person if I hadn’t read or talked about that story.
Then I thought about it. What had I done? I couldn’t remember writing a letter to the PM, signing a petition, or contributing in any way. I remember someone at work suggesting how to donate items and money and me thinking this was a very good idea and that I would definitely do this.
But, I don’t think I did. I think I was broke, and thought about donating once pay day came around, once I actually had some spare cash, but then I just… forgot about it.
I know I talked about it online and shared stories. I’d been heartbroken over the lives lost and furious about the injustice of all those deaths. Tweeting online… Was that all I had done?
In the past, I’ve heard of disasters in the news and spread the word online, sharing links to charities. I would often donate.
I tried to think of the last time I’d done that. I couldn’t remember. I think I’d started to equate talking about something as doing something positive. I’m not sure when that happened.
On the way back from the station, I explained what I was doing in October to my parents as they gave me a lift. Dad and I always have conversations about the news, bonding over the latest terrible thing the government has done. I realised, as Dad stopped himself from launching into a tirade about Philip Hammond (with help from Mum loudly shushing him), that I was going to be missing a vital part of our relationship for the next month.
Tuesday 3rd October – The Old Gentleman
It’s amazing just how much news appears unbidden in our lives. It’s ubiquitous and requires a very active attempt to avoid it.
On the train in, I was furiously typing on my phone, so managed to avoid the morning headlines. I was heading to a half day of training at a swanky external venue and encountered my first problem. Across from the entrance, and just outside my room for the day, was a massive flatscreen TV. On it was BBC News. I managed to cast my gaze downwards like some penitent believer, which I’m sure didn’t make me look weird to the reception staff at all.
As I scooted to the training room, my eyes fell upon a selection of newspapers arranged on a side table. One caught my attention: “Act of Evil”. I glanced away, but had already registered the all-too-familiar scenes of distraught, disheveled survivors. I guessed this was something to do with the Las Vegas story I’d accidentally absorbed the day before. I shrugged it off. If nothing else, I had to get ready for delivering some training.
It may seem callous and yet it was necessary. There are few tragic events that collectively stop us in our tracks, where the enormity of it overwhelms our ability to recognise it as reality. I’m not sure what it says about me or society that this was not one of those times.
Actually, I know exactly what it says, I just don’t like the implications.
One benefit to this whole thing is that I’ve been reading a lot more. I just finished The Twilight Pariah, and will hopefully be putting up a review on GeekPlanetOnline soon. The other benefit is that I’ve started listening to the Steal the Stars podcast and it’s outstanding. It’s an audio drama described as a “noir science fiction thriller”. It’s imaginative and well-paced, with excellent voice-acting. It is not what I was expecting, but in a very good way.
At the end of the day, I did my usual waltz around the Evening Standard sellers and successfully avoided glancing at any news tidbits. Instead, I dealt with an unexpected situation on the train.
At one station, we stopped in the usual way. What wasn’t usual was the elderly gent who appeared to be kneeling between the seats, shouting for someone to hold the doors. After a bit of confusion, it turned out that he had half-collapsed. He loudly blamed his knees, as if disciplining them would force his body upright. A man behind him tried to help him up, but succeeded only in pinning the elderly gent’s arms upwards in a Y shape like some Village People novelty tribute act.
At that point, I intervened as (if this continued) the collapsed man was about to be stretched like he was on a rack, albeit in a well-meaning way. Having nurses in the family helps as it teaches you to remain calmer than others, if only somewhat, in my case. I tried to get the man to balance himself against some seats, but he seemed confused. Careful not to bruise or injure him, I and another person supported and pivoted him so that he could rest on a seat. I wasn’t sure if he was drunk, confused, or embarrassed because he kept trying to get up despite his unwilling legs wobbling. I started asking him for his name as a distraction technique. I then popped my head out the (still jammed-open) doors and tried to see if anyone was coming.
In the way most people do when faced with a weird situation, my fellow commuters all looked at each other, no one wanting to take responsibility. One bright soul by the doors asked if he should pull the alarm. I stowed my “why haven’t you done that already?” look and said, yes, please.
Alarm pulled, I started talking to the man again. He was definitely confused, so I asked him about who was coming to pick him up, what he’d done in London, etc, anything to stop him trying to get up. The guard came, and a few of us explained. The guard still looked bemused, but at least suggested a way to move the incapacitated commuter. A wheelchair and ramp were summoned, and I and two others helped support and pivot the gentleman again.
Off he went with a thank you and a wave.
We all went back to ignoring each other, apart from the people opposite who made wry comments about the gentleman stumbling onto the train. I mentally made notes that their contribution to the earlier incident had been to tell the man to stay put and not move whilst he dug his fingers into my arm as if to lever himself up. It reminded me of my grandmother desperately trying to escape her hospital bed.
The gentleman hadn’t listened to this Greek chorus, so they had repeated themselves, but louder. As effective as the first time, finally someone else had explained why he shouldn’t move i.e. that the wheelchair wasn’t there yet. That had done the job.
I sat in silence, watching everyone retreat into their own worlds again, hiding in headphones or phone screens or newspaper pages, and I couldn’t blame them. I felt the pull to distract myself with something, anything, but focused instead on the fact that I was nearly home.