Jack Reid

Confessions of a News Addict

November 24, 2014

Hello. My name is Jack…

[Group: Hello, Jack]

…and I’m a news addict.

In the earliest seconds of my waking day, as my brain begins to comprehend the external world and puts away the psychedelic nonsense of my dreams, I reach for the news. Around 9.30 every morning, or earlier if I’m awoken by whatever song I’ve decided to try and numb the pain of a 9am seminar with, I unplug my phone and open up the news.

Being a news junkie of the caliber that I have reached means that I’ve spent years trimming, optimising, and maximising the flow of information from the internet into my brain. I don’t go to individual news websites any more. I’ve collated the raw text and image feeds into a feed reader (I use Feedly, that’s the strongest shit) that constitutes my personally curated melée of current affairs. Sorted into categories like Lifestyle, Politics, and Web Design are the RSS feeds of websites of almost every ilk. If they put out timely articles and are the best in their field, I probably read their stuff. That sounds pretty conceited of me, right? Well, I’ve put a lot of time into my very own 24 hour news channel, and I’m allowed to be proud.

So, every morning I’m flicking through these streams of information, and every fifth or so story I’m reading voraciously. At this point I don’t know whether I prefer the process of learning news, or actually knowing it. It’s probably the former, because in the biggest twist of tragic irony, I’m pretty much unable to retain anything I read on a screen past a couple of days. I read a book and I’ll be able to quote it months, maybe years later (and yet can’t remember where I put the fucking pen down ten seconds ago) but I read the best article of my life on The New Yorker’s feed and it’ll be gone by the time I’ve flipped apps and checked my Twitter notifications. Maybe it’s like my friend says: enjoyment is all about the value that we assign to things. I probably bought the book (or at least put some effort in to get it from the library), and so my subconscious thinks well heck, I may as well make this worth my while. When it comes to the article on my phone’s 3.5 inch screen, the effort expended is negligible – the flick of a thumb, the touch of a fingertip – so why would my brain’s memory banks deign to commit the information? What reason do I have to give it any value?

Despite knowing all of that, I can’t help it. I just want my fix, man. I carry my laptop through with me to the kitchen as I get a bowl of cereal. I’ve added another ten inches to my screen real estate, allowing an even higher rate of information intake as I chew on my Shreddies, slack-jawed. By the time I’ve finished a bowl and I’m carrying my laptop in front of me through the hall back to my room I’ve learnt an unbelievable quantity of information. Ukraine’s parliament plan to impeach the President. The world’s most wanted drug kingpin has been arrested. Hostilities wage on in Fallujah. Apple and Samsung’s patent talks fail, another court case likely. All of these facts will affect nothing of the physical reality of my day, and yet I devour them like my life depends on it, like there’s a summative exam looming on ‘Current Affairs 2009 – 2014’. It’s a sickness. As an overly emotional teenager I used to fantasise about getting away to a solitary cabin in snowy woods and just hanging out, drawing, writing. Today, that fantasy, albeit infantile to begin with, has gone out the window; it’s pretty unlikely I’ll get a solid connection to the feeds in a silly cabin in the woods.

My sickness is brought on by environmental factors, I would say. Access to high-volume information is too readily available, and that availability is always going to leave me craving more, to the point of ridiculousness. I’d probably weld a fibre-optic cable to my brain stem if I could, and watch the infinite stream of Politico op-eds, Reuters alerts, and Al Jazeera pieces fly past the back of my retinas. Like I’ve said, none of it would stick, but the beauty lies in the intake, the weightless tonnes of data rushing over my skin like a high wind. The cost of my addiction isn’t opaque to me. The first and gravest casualty of my condition was my ability to deep dive. The deep dive is reading four different books on one ancient war because it intrigued you so much; it’s sitting and just thinking for twenty minutes about a conversation that you had with somebody that day. They say that the ability to fixate wholly upon one thing is what makes prodigies, those outliers in the bell curve of human ability. In my current state, the deep dive is a distant possibility.

I can’t get enough of current affairs, and perhaps when I write that on some personal statement or job application, it will be shrugged off as generic hyperbole. However, when I say that I can’t get enough of current affairs, it’s deeper than the spiel of an enthusiastic applicant. It’s the sound of somebody coming to terms with the first step toward recovery: maybe I have a problem