What’s The News Today?

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.

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Categories: Culture

4 replies

  1. Phil,

    Phil, your blog today brings to mind the comments that Archibald Hart makes in his book: THRILLED TO DEATH: How the endless pursuit of pleasure is leaving us numb.

    Describing the condition of anhedonia, he writes in chapter 5 of his book these words:

    “…recently while speaking to the faculty of a prestigious Christian college and seminary, I asked several of the professors to identify what characterized modern college students today, as compared with students of earlier times. They all gave the same response: students seem incapable of extracting any contentment or pleasure out of the ordinary things of their life. I was totally taken by surprise as I had not mentioned my interest in modern-day anhedonia. These professors seemed to know all about the anhedonic new world of young people – a world in which only the spectacular or the extravagant can pentetrate the barriers to the pleasure system of young people. Most of the faculty also acknowledged that they were having the same feelings themselves.”

    Hart goes on to explain that the primary reason for this is the overstimulation possible in our electronic world where the opportunity to be stimulated continually is causing our bodies to errect barriers. These protective barriers make it difficult then to experience pleasure from the normal arenas much as cocaine does. The brain chemistry is similar and alarming.

    Hart has put his writing online as a sample and it can be accessed here. Chapter 5, page 73 – 74 is the source of the above quote.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=rdIHAWuHcgQC&pg=PA73&lpg=PA73&dq=Anhedonia+%26+Hart&source=bl&ots=WNoqZJLdh4&sig=RQMFL6_p8eUwDB9mvmMhTUlAv0o&hl=en&ei=N1xTSr2YJ4_qsQOXgrWOBw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3

  2. Very interesting topic. Too me this impresses only more the need for us to learn to be entertained and fascinated by God. It is such a challenging question to ask oursevles, whether Jesus has become yesterdays news. I heard a statistic yesterday that about 17% of Christians read the Bible daily. It seems that for most of us the Bible is yesterdays news. We need an impartation of hunger for the Word of God and for seeking His face. We need revelation that His beauty is better than our iphones and facebook.

    Thanks for a great entry Dr. Eaton.

  3. I agree with you on taking the time for careful thinking–there is a big difference between knowing that something happened, knowing about it, and knowing what it means. While the speedy, information-as-a-commodity approach certainly affords us the opportunity of breadth in knowledge, I wonder if it has devalued depth of knowledge or the ability to think critically about an issue. For example, what does Michael Jackson’s death mean to the world? A friend of mine commented that perhaps the world is so moved by it because in confronting his mortality, they are also forced to admit their own. It occurred to me then how much more goes on than gets covered in the current news climate, where minute details often get presented as breaking news. We get stuck on presenting facts and often forget to ask, “what does it mean?” Maybe we are afraid to ask? I am reminded of Bishop N.T. Wright’s chapel speech several years ago in which he asks, “Why is our world beautiful, and what are we as Christians to do about it? Why is our world ugly, and what are we as Christians to do about it?” To me, this is the type of deep thinking that needs to accompany the news.

  4. I share a similar sentiment Dr. Eaton. In such a fast-paced city and world, one can easily spend all day trying to keep up with the “news” only to be forgotten and replaced by tomorrow’s “news.” I believe history and tradition are very important elements that are forgotten in our culture. That in an ever so transient culture something of permanence is hard to come by.

    In reply to the story of the gospel of Jesus Christ that is thousands of years in the making, the good news is that: it has always been a relational endeavor to communicate it’s worth. God is providentially allowing us to make the gospel more personal in these times. He is allowing us to actually love our neighbor, get to know them, speak the truth of the gospel into their life, and see them through in becoming Christ to their neighbor. The Gospel may not be able to be spread through impersonal media outlets as “news” but it can be spread through the hearts of the body of Christ in loving our neighbors. That will always be news to me, and particularly good news at that.

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