The news moves fast these days. The afternoon of Michael Jackson’s sudden death, a young man on a commuter train spotted a gentleman across the aisle reading a newspaper. The young man looked up from his iPhone in shock and dismay over the death of the king of pop that afternoon and asked the older man: “Is there any news about Michael Jackson in the newspaper”?
Our demand for instant, up-to-the-minute, fast-moving news is insatiable. It is our new perception of what is news. It is our new sense of time. It is a mind-boggling new sense of space, with bits of information moving about the globe in nanoseconds. We must be plugged in — immediately and every minute of the day. When is the news no longer news?
I saw a comic satire the other evening where a group of reporters showed up at The New York Times. As one of the reporters sat at the desk of an editor, the reporter asked, “Is there anything in the paper today that is today’s news?” To which the editor, lifting up a Times, responded, “Of course, it is all today’s news.” Incredulous, the reporter said, “Oh, no, all of that is yesterday’s news. I mean today’s news.”
This sentiment is in part the cause of the demise of today’s newspapers. What is happening in the world is not moving any faster than it ever has, I suppose, but our demand to know immediately has most certainly changed. Radically changed.
I have a lot of questions about the consequences of all of this. There is something dizzying about the speed with which we forgot the problems we thought were so important just yesterday. Do we allow ourselves time to think carefully enough about the big issues that affect our lives, our nation, our communities, the world? Doesn’t careful thinking take time?
And how do we continue to cultivate interest in history, in the continuity of things? Our understanding of the past is profoundly critical to our actions in the present, but with this speed of changing attention, is there anything of permanence?
David Segal in The New York Times mused last week that “even Michael Jackson would have a hard time becoming Michael Jackson these days.” With Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and a million other ways people choose to listen to their music and read what they want and communicate with whom they want, “when will another pop culture figure mean so much to so many that people are moved to assemble, hug and dance”? How do we figure out what we have in common these days?
We never have anything in common at Starbucks. You like your latte one way, I like mine another. Or is it a mocha? No whip? We live in a world of endless choices. Everything is personalized. We all look at things differently.
And so I find myself asking what about a story of what is true and good and beautiful that is centuries in the making? I’m thinking here about the good news of Jesus Christ. Is that yesterday’s news too? To make the good news truly news for our up-to-the-second culture will take exceptional skill and savvy and wisdom. Engaging the culture with the gospel is not so easy these days when what we regard as news is here today and gone tomorrow. I like that challenge. But it isn’t easy.