Monday, 22 August 2022

News of the World

Back in the last decade, it was social media - Facebook, Mumsnet, various writing forums - that were my trap for getting tangled up in when I should have been doing something better. These days, I’m more likely to end up scrolling through endless articles and related comments on regular news sites.

It’s easier to justify because:

1. I’m paying a subscription

2. It’s a good thing to be informed about what’s going on in the world, surely?

Yet these news sites often leave me with that nasty bingey mental junk food feeling that I used to get from Facebook:

    - that wasn’t paricularly nutritious or satisfying

    - and I couldn’t stop: the “enough is enough” button was having a day off

I’ve been reading How Modern Media Destroys Our Minds, from The School of Life, which analyses this phenomenon and offers a few curative suggestions. 

The click-baity title I could have done without - another example of the mismatch I wrote about here. That aside, the book shows how the modern media preys on the less desirable aspects of human nature - passivity, celebrity, nastiness and distraction, which encompasses all sorts of stuff like helplessness, outrage, mawkishness, schadenfreude and sanctimoniousness.

It’s a relief to know that my own reaction to the modern media diet is not unusual.

On to the suggested cures. There are 9 of these, of which two particularly appealed to me:

Become an aristocrat (of the spirit)

This is inspired in part by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly who declared that “the most beautiful destiny: to have genius and be obscure.”

The book says of Aristocrats of the Spirit: they are set apart not by haughty contempt but by a melancholic certainty that the disputes of the populace will be chaotic, brutal, partisan, deeply illogical and unfair because this is the normal, unfortunate lot of the human animal.

And that obscurity leads to the idea:

Never Be Famous

I’ll admit it: 10 years ago I loved the idea of collecting clicks and likes, for blog posts to go viral, for my books to be picked up by a top publisher and top director and all the rest. But the idea of that now is quite hideous. I like retreating back into obscurity, which is my “safe place”.

In a world without fame, certain books, sofas, cheeses or lamps will still be better than others, certain ideas will still be more valuable, certain people will still have hearts that are kinder and more sensitive, but none of these would have to be identified by the destructive and manic spotlight of the media.

Having said that, of course, this is one area (or many) where brands are not like people.

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