For some reason, I thought it was a good idea to let the BBC News application give me alerts on breaking news.
Bad idea for two reasons.
Its alerts come with a BBC alert sound. So if I'm with people, I feel that I have to explain that I don't have the BBC alert sound as a ringtone (I have sound effects from Legend of Zelda, but thats another "reality" topic altogether), and its a news alert from the App. (Unless they also have the app, in which case we all get these alerts at the same time.)
It is always either bad news, or a reminder/update of a previous bad news story.
Apparently, there is no such thing as breaking, national good news. Maybe something like they royal baby would have qualified as "breaking national good news" — but for me, thats an irrelevant distraction that I'm going to be hearing plenty more about than I really want to anyway.
The Onion hit it on the head with its "This is what the world is like now" article;
“If you are not hyper-vigilant and in some way fearful for your very life then, I’m sorry, you’re living on a completely different planet,” National Security Advisor Tom Donilon told reporters. “Now, if you feel like you live in an unpredictable place where somebody hates you for no reason whatsoever and literally wants to murder you even though they’ve never even met you, well, that’s living in the world based on how it truly is. It’s an age of constantly searching for answers but realizing there are none because there are simply no logical answers when it comes to insanity.”
Its difficult to step outside of this world, because its the world that we live in. What is less obvious is that it is the world we choose to live in — perhaps because it isn't a choice we think about.
At work, I had the opportunity to join in some training sessions around Mindfulness. One exercise involved looking at your daily routine, and identifying whether each of your regular activities had a positive or negative ('draining') effect on you. Almost everyone had "watching TV" as an activity, and almost everyone considered it a 'draining' effect. So there was a bit of discussion about what people felt they should do. The general answer seemed to be "watch something else."
The idea of not watching TV on a daily basis barely surfaced in the discussion. As though we didn't have a choice in buying a TV set, putting it in our living room, seetting up our most comfortable furniture around it for optimal viewing angle (god forbid we should have the chairs we sit in all evening facing one another!) and switching it on every evening. Our only choice was what channel to watch.
Its kind of like Pepsi vs Coke — we get so caught up in whats going on in "one vs the other" that we don't think about what the third option might be. (Lemonade? Mineral water? Tap water?)
In the media industry, there is a lot of energy going into a semi-manufactured "TV versus online video" war at the moment, with the idea that online video will be able to disrupt the TV market, bringing down the monopolies of cable networks in the US and bringing quality video content to everyone, without all the stuff we don't like about TV (ie. subscription prices, advertising - the stuff that funds the content we want in the first place…)
But this isn't about all of that.
This is about reality.
Reality is what you choose it to be.
That doesn't mean that if you want to live in a world without gravity, you just need to close your eyes, click your heels and believe… We have a limit to what we can choose from. But the choices available to us are almost infinite. It means that if you choose to live in a world of "news" — watch nothing but 24 hour news channels, read nothing but news editorial, listen to nothing but news radio — then the reality that you live in won't have much in the line of art, poetry, music or dance. (For example…) But that is a consequence of a choice.
Whats more, if you believe that we experience the world subjectively — that is, we are constantly creating subjective representations of our experiences, based on what we notice and what we selectively focus on, then beyond our choice of what we want to experience is our choice of how we want to process those experiences.
So, your reality is your choice.
Understanding what that means is easy.
Understanding the consequences of those choices… aren't.
Media is an extension of your senses.
Media theorist Marshall McLuhan went so far as to define "media" as "any extension of ourselves", or more broadly, "any new technology". It fundamentally changes our relationship with the world us.
Whether that is a live video feed from a warzone on the other side of the planet (which extends our senses of sight and sound), the printed word (allowing us to communicate not just across space, but across time), motorised transport (which compress distance, bringing distant people closer — for better or worse), or even the light bulb (opening up new spaces, changing what we can do in our homes or in public spaces once sunlight has vanished)— its all "media".
Whats more, it doesn't do it in a balanced way — a medium that is purely visual extends the sense of sight at the expense of the other senses.
The well known aphorism "The medium is the message" is all about this idea — that the effect that the printing press had on society had nothing to do with the content that was being printed, and everything to do with the nature of the printed word.
The reason this is important right now is because its changing. Networked computers take this idea to the next level. Instead of merely extending our senses, they extend our intellect.
So, take the idea of technology as "extensions of our senses", along with the fact that the latest generation of communications technology is all about the networked, multi-purpose devices (whether PC, smartphone, tablet, or whatever else might be around the corner), and you are left with a pretty clear picture of the importance of understanding the impact of all of this on society.
Whoever controls your senses controls your reality.
Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous systems to the private manipulation of those who would try to benefit from taking a lease on our eyes and ears and nerves, we don't really have any rights left. Leasing our eyes and ears and nerves to commercial interests is like handing over the common speech to a private corporation, or like giving the earth's atmosphere to a company as a monopoly.
"Understanding Media", Marshall McLuhan, 1964
But this isn't something being done by other people and choices being forced upon us. It isn't about "them". Its about us.
It used to be that your choice was limited to the newspaper you read, or the TV channel you watched the news on.
Now, you have a choice of any media organisation in the world to follow. Or, you can turn to your chosen friends on Facebook, people you find interesting on Twitter, good blogs on Tumblr.
Bill Hicks - "its just a ride".
Its only a choice - no effort, no work, no job, no savings of money, a choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your door, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one.
Bill Hicks' suggestion of what we can do to change the world is a pretty ambitious one. My suggestion would be to recognise what is the world you live in, and how much of it is the way it is, because of your own choices you've made. And how much of that is the way you want it to be. Because its your ride.
So, anyway, I've switched off BBC News Alerts. I think not knowing what is going on in the world is going to make me happier.