A deluge of news is yours anytime, anywhere you choose — on your television screen, your tablet and your smartphone. That’s not necessarily a good thing. You can hear media reports on the radio when you drive to work, check news feeds on Facebook (if it isn’t blocked) at the office or read up on the latest local and world events on your iPhone while you’re sitting on the can. The media will tell you who’s shafting who, what words are safe to use (you must keep up), where danger and tragedy exist in overabundance and what you should or shouldn’t eat, which changes invariably from week to week with the publication of the latest nutrition research.
With billions of people on the planet dealing with billions of problems, many of us might be suffering from crisis fatigue. It’s not that we don’t care, but with so much to bloody care about, our attention is easily diverted from one crisis to the next. The compassion that we’d like to believe makes us special can wear thin, until we still say we care, but our hearts ring hollow with the sentiment.
Not that long ago, before the advent of modern communications, if a tragedy occurred in a state or country right next door (ethnic violence, natural disaster), it could be weeks, or even months before we heard about it. If a flood or deadly riot took place on the other side of the planet, the news might not reach us for years, if it reached us at all.
Most of us want to be good people. Even so, with a daily mountain of information pummeling us hard for our collective attention — not to mention important events that don’t even make the general news cycle — it has become an overwhelming job just to maintain an updated awareness of all of the things we ought to care about.
Here’s just a small sampling, in no particular order of gravity, of what a well-informed citizen might have to digest on any given day: Sectarian violence in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram murders and abductions in Nigeria and Cameroon, the obesity epidemic, Dr. Oz hawking “miracle” vitamins, global warming, voter disenfranchisement, rape gangs in India, a struggling middle class, exploding cars, increasing shark attacks, Russian territorial expansion, human trafficking, dying immigrants, Ebola outbreaks, trouble brewing in Rwanda, territorial disputes in the South China Sea and rampant poverty in Mississippi.
Whew, that’s a lot, right? And I’ve only touched on the surface. We still have to address income equality, AIDS (it hasn’t gone away), malaria, resurgent disease like measles and polio, drug addiction, prison sentencing and gun violence. It’s enough to make someone’s head explode, which of course would just be another headline to worry about: “Outbreak of Sudden Cranial Explosion Syndrome in Millennials Linked to Increasing Demands on Diminishing Attention Spans.”
What can we do? My humble suggestion, if you aspire to greater compassion but still want some time to unwind in order to prevent your head from popping open like a melon, is to simply pick one or two causes that move you deeply, and focus your efforts there.
By choosing not to click on or view every attention-grabbing headline that comes your way, you might avoid crisis fatigue, make a difference for a select group or people and still be able to fall asleep at night without the weight of the world ripping through your cerebral cortex.
If you run around putting out every fire (literally or theoretically in your mind), you could tear your metal and physical health apart. An exceptionally well-informed person with the attention span of a puppy that’s just ingested two pounds of cannabis-infused gummy bears won’t do anyone any good. Save your mental energy and focus it where you can while holding back some reserves for the business of your day-to-day life.
Go on, miss a few news cycles, and see if your life is any worse for the absence of gut-wrenching headlines. If that’s the week the killer asteroid happens to hit, well, at least you didn’t have to stress out about it.
Carl Pettit is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.