Amazing Times

I am not making this up.

It is 10:12 a.m. as I start to write down these thoughts. I’ve been sitting in this spot pretty much continuously since 5:40 a.m.. I’ve been listening to music (headphones connected to an iPad) and marvelling at, and moved/excited by, the artistry of many. It’s easy to keep track because of the operating system on my ‘device’. Here’s the list of what I have been listening to – although not in order: Joni Mitchell, Quincy Jones, Marvin Gaye, Angela Hewitt, Rob McConnell, Duke Ellington, J. S. Bach, Carn Davidson 9, James Brown and Gustav Mahler. I didn’t plan this amazing journey. One thing led to another. Perhaps this sounds familiar to you. I own several of the CDs I listened to, but don’t own every one. However, thanks to the streaming service I use, I find it incredibly easy to listen to just about anything that pops into my head- for about $12 Canadian a month.

An email from the Toronto Star came in while I was listening (at 8:18 am) which led to my checking out a collection of “25 Photos Worth Remembering” which have appeared in the Star during the past 125 years. I wound up multitasking (listening to music at the same time).

I visited Facebook briefly, then checked out FanSided (Who started capitalizing letters in the middle of words?) for some Toronto Blue Jays news, and renewed my digital subscription to National Geographic Magazine (iPad edition). At some point this morning I added a book I’ve wanted to read on my Kindle Paperwhite. No, I didn’t start reading it right away, but I could have. Such restraint!!

Mmm…I just glanced at a pop-up note on my screen. I have received 13 emails since I started writing – most of them from lists from which I’ve repeatedly tried to ‘unsubscribe’. I really don’t know how to stop the digital flood.

Again, none of this is made up!

Oh, and while I was on Facebook (for about 5 minutes), I saw ads that popped up in the middle of the post I was reading from a website where I purchased ONE item a long time ago. Data harvesting gone amok.

It is 10:41 and I just answered the phone from a telemarketer who has been calling repeatedly for months (we never pick up thanks to caller id). I answered the phone, and explained to the person (who was just making a living – not trying to annoy me) that we already subscribe to their service and ‘please take us off your phone list’. She was polite and apologized. Nice!

Clearly, the pace of life is putting me at risk of contracting emotional whiplash. The deluge of data is tremendously distracting as well. You see, when I awoke early this morning I thought I would spend some time on a composition I’ve been working on. I guess that will happen later today, but first let me finish this blog and then…time for a nap.

So what IS the News?

Where do you get your news? Mine comes from a few ‘outlets’ that I choose to read or listen to or to watch. I generally read newspaper articles (none of them on paper!), usually in the morning.  After that there is a steady stream of  ‘notifications’ that pop up on my ‘devices’ throughout the day. They lead me to websites, social media…occasionally…and podcasts.

Decades ago, I saw only one newspaper per day, and when I lived with my parents it was the newspaper my father chose out of the two then available in Toronto. He bought the Toronto Telegram – a conservative publication compared to the Toronto Star, which had liberal leanings (I wouldn’t say they were overtly left-wing). It didn’t matter much to me then because in those days I pretty much read the sports pages only. I couldn’t wait for him to arrive home around 6 pm Monday to Friday so I could read what I chose to read.

So it seems choices are made and are important when it comes to the news we ingest everyday. I choose my sources based on my interests, values, political leanings, and the quality of the writing and what I perceive to be the intelligence and insight of those who appear on this or that television panel. I want my sources to have been fact-checked and edited with skill (editing is becoming a a lost art). Since I’m retired I have WAY more time than I had 10 years ago to read, watch,  and listen to news. So I choose to read such publications as the Toronto Star, the Economist, the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post, CBC News, and NPR. Favourite podcasts are The Axe Files (David Axelrod), The Daily, Fresh Air (NPR podcast), Morning Joe, Blue Jays Talk, As it Happens, Tavis Smiley, Here’s the Thing, The Moth, Classical Performance Podcast and the list goes on. I’m not much of a television watcher except for sports and news broadcasts including CNN, MLB, and CBC Newsworld. I list all of these sources as they indicate what gets through my personal FILTER. The list reveals that I am a liberal, I enjoy political commentary, the arts and baseball and you could draw other conclusions.

BUT, can I trust my sources? Am I getting ‘the NEWS’ everyday? Journalism has evolved tremendously in my lifetime. What I remember is that most articles I read ‘back in the day’ were more fact and information based. If you were interested in opinion, you read the editorial page. I think news outlets (any media) are completely saturated with opinion and commentary. Panels of experts appear everywhere.  Remember those folks who could use a forked stick to find water? We don’t need water finders so much as B.S. finders. Maybe such devices could have a red light that comes on when one hears suspect information. I think my B.S. finder would glow nearly constantly when hearing politicians interviewed or quoted. And it doesn’t matter which country. (Do they EVER answer a question directly?)

Today, representatives from FaceBook, Twitter and Google are meeting with the United States Congress to discuss their roles in conveying the news. I heard a clip of one respondent, I believe it was someone from FaceBook, who said (I paraphrase), “We are not a newspaper. We are a platform people use to share information…blah, blah, blah”). It’s time for social media ‘officials’ to wake up to the fact that people DO use their platforms to get their news – on nearly infinite numbers of subjects. Social media CRIMES exist. We need to adapt to the massive changes to social interaction occurring now and recognize that without some form of regulation and enforcement of minimum standards of conduct we are putting our future and the future of our children and grandchildren at great risk. Demand to know the source of information if you see a suspect post/article/email, etc..

I don’t pretend to know what should be done about all of this, but I am yearning for (calling for?) a return to “innocent until proven guilty”, “just the facts, m’am, just the facts” and the reinstatement of all professional editors (thoroughly vetted and accredited) to their rightful place. Editors are WAY more important than columnists. No one can run very fast on loose gravel.

I would also like to see social media regulated with the same rationale as anything else. We don’t allow humans to drive until they are 16, vote until they are a certain age, and there are host of other ways socieities protect themselves from self harm. I think there should be definitions and laws clarified or created that apply to the dissemination of hate – in any form. When someone deliberately lies to further there own agenda or to cover up wrong-doings, I think they should be held to account. Yes, holding individuals to account happens – sort of – some of the time – but it is so unsettling to see misinformation dismissed with a wink or a chuckle. (A certain Secretary of State calling a certain President “unconventional”, dismissing that observation with a wry grin, implying that misdeeds and lying are harmless). There is far too much of “the ends justify the means” as far as I’m concerned.

Behind all of this is my fervent wish to have confidence in the information I receive. I want news…NOT spin. Read more