Facebook, Thoreau and Our Obsession with News

We live in a very interesting world where our individual attention span is continuously reducing. I’ve heard many of my friends complain about not being able to read a novel or watch a documentary for a stretch of time, without being forced to check their phones. We are so thirsty for information, both personal/communicative and general news updates on our phones, that we have forgotten how to concentrate for more than the 2-minutes required to browse through a List Post! Social media marketing is an altogether different sport these days. It has developed its own techniques, rooting entrepreneurs and even self-employed artisans to social media, in a cruel twisted way, changing the concept of advertisements forever. (The irony of posting this blog article on FB is not lost on me.) I’m even failing to focus on a T20 cricket match, forced to check FB for instant memes on what I just saw on TV. This is a shameful, cruel joke by evolution. Or maybe its just shameful.

MUST CREDIT: @esmith_images/Instagram This Instagram photo shows a man missing a humpback whale surface two feet away from him because he was glued to his phone. The moment was caught during a whale watch in Redondo Beach, California, professional photographer Eric Smith told ABC News today. Smith said he had about five photos of whales with the private sailboat in the background, but the guy never got off his phone in any of the pictures.

Today, I was reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau, the man who allegedly inspired Gandhi on notions of civil disobedience. Thoreau lived by a lake in a cottage he made himself, secluded from the outside world for two years. It was basically a self-imposed Big Brother reality show, minus the cameras and contestants. Walden is about his experience living the lonely life and he meticulously outlines his philosophy and daily requirements. It reads like a life manifesto sometimes and like a personal account diary at other times. One by one, he tears apart the reasons humans have to need everything we have, including food, shelter, clothes, money etc. Sure, his ideas do not seem widely applicable to everyone everywhere, but the gist is to live a minimally material life. Very transcendental, indeed. The part that interested me most was his perception about news or information being a central part of human life. He wonders why humans are so obsessed with happenings around the world, when nothing new ever takes place (think Benjamin of Animal Farm). Wars, accidents, death, discovery — all of this has happened and will keep happening, he says, and casually denounces the idea of staying informed.

The cover says it all

Of course, it’s easy to disagree and point out how impractical Thoreau is. But think of this for a minute. Isn’t he right? This constant need for new information (NEWs) is a defining feature of human life. With all these gadgets today this need is even more obsessive and inevitable. We are bombarded with new information every time we log onto the Internet. Or when we skip through channels on TV. Or when we pick up the newspaper. Today we also have the highest rate of anxiety related problems in the world and the term “informed opinion” has attained new meanings. How informed? How many articles on a topic should you read before forming an informed opinion? Because God knows there are plenty out there, with new events and interpretations coming in by the minute!

Yet, I know people who are happily unaware/ vaguely aware of events in the world, living their own life, seemingly apathetic, as if Trump does not even exist, as if there isn’t a bombing happening every day, as if there aren’t nuclear reactors suddenly leaking and mysteriously being ignored in spite of that…. And they are happy. Ignorance is bliss.


Even being aware of this problem does not help. I will still need to “stay informed,” thanks to my university education which made me more politically and socially aware than I would have asked for. As for social media, I’m still on Facebook because it is my primary news source and rant outlet. Once, during college I deactivated Facebook, taking all the necessary precautions. I tried using other Apps that would show me news on relevant topics (Weebly) and even an App that would let me store multitude of articles until I get to actually reading them (Instapaper, Pocket). Needless to say, it just wasn’t the same. Neither of these apps matched up to FB’s knowledge of what I wanted to read nor would they let me respond to what I was reading in a meaningful way. Not to mention, the lack of memes. Phew.


So then, I realized that it is my need to get the right information and the urge to respond to that information, essentially broadcast it, which is keeping me from leaving. Which brings me to my next post, on the need to have opinions and being politically correct. Until then.