Monday 14 March 2011

Information: what for?

Rolling media coverage of disasters, as we’re currently getting from the earthquake in Japan, both freaks me out and numbs me, leaves me not knowing what I feel, not knowing what to feel.

The news reports seem to come from nothingness, sit there in nothingness. They fail to acknowledge or contextualise themselves or their audience. What purpose are they intended to serve? How are they intended to make us feel?

Is learning of death and destruction on an unimaginable scale not supposed to make us feel anything? There’s no recognition that many of those listening or watching will haul themselves out of bed in the morning and trudge off to work feeling overwhelmed by fear and sorrow, having no idea what to DO about what’s happened, and no idea either how to carry on with our own stuff regardless. Instead, there’s kind of a tacit assumption that we'll want to know, but that we don’t really care.

It’s bizarre, detached from any sort of meaningful humanity, a horrible apotheosis of the way we live now. We get so much information that it’s worse than getting none, just as we live with so much of everything, so much access to everywhere, that it’s like being nowhere and having nothing.

I wish I could think of a useful, or even slightly redemptive, observation to conclude with. Well, perhaps acknowledging how I feel is a start.


Stray said...

Hi Jean,

thanks for saying this.

I flit between being glued to the coverage and feeling like it's futile.

Still, it feels important to witness - and I do think it's more about that than about voyeurism for me. Of course my attention is so abstract from what's happening that it makes no difference, and yet our collective understanding of the situation unfolding must surely inform how we behave as a global society in future?

On Friday morning I took Ruby to the vets, and we saw a little, elderly dog die in its owner's arms in the waiting room. I was overcome - struck by the incredible losses - of people and of loved pets - that they are going through in Japan.

My lovely wife is taking part in some online discussions at the moment - therapists talking shop. Some of the therapists say they don't watch the news, and then talk of metaphorical 'quakes' in the therapy room. Fortunately someone called them on that BS - there is a point where we have to acknowledge, and witness, the concrete destruction.

I agree that the TV news is poorly framed. When they talk in dollars I want to be sick. I'm finding online coverage - particularly by trusted sources on the nuclear situation etc - less awful.

I'm not sure there is a redemptive observation to be made - except that the ability to be with it without needing to find a spin that makes it palatable is important. We need more honesty in our world.

Stray said...

Reading this back it sounded like I was equating pet life to human life! Not what I meant at all - just that the extent of loss in total is so huge - in places like Sendai the lucky families will be the ones who *only* lost their homes and pets, but still have the family unit intact. Beyond imagination really.

Stray x

Dale said...

Stray, I feel no need to "witness" this at all: it's a high media festival, witnessed by everyone with tv or internet. I feel some need to witness the multitudes dying off camera, the old woman starving to death in Haiti, the child-prostitute beaten to death in Guadalajara -- the people who simply disappear without a trace in the guts of the world economy.

But even there, I feel that the urge is somehow false. What we really need to open our eyes to is the suffering we're right next to and most deeply implicated in. I don't much trust the sort of witness or compassion that's extended to people we don't know and mediated by professional disaster-mongers.

Jean said...

Stray and Dale, I know that you are both people of good sense, outstanding intellect and above all compassion. Your disagreement reinforces my feelings of confusion and inadequacy, I guess. But I value your willingness to engage with this difficult topic. xx

Dale said...

Really? I was just thinking that your capacity to simply rest with the feelings of confusion and inadequacy demonstrated a much higher-level and more appropriate engagement with this disaster than either of ours :-)

Stray said...

Dale - I hear what you're saying, and I wrestle with that side of things too. Should I be doing something more than I am, towards changing the world? I know I don't do enough. Should I be in another country, doing something really concrete?

My partner and I console ourselves that we at least live it in our daily lives a little - she provides therapy for people who can't afford it otherwise, and we have designed our family to permanently include an adult friend who has autism and tourettes, and who isn't able to live alone.

That can be very difficult at times - we rarely have privacy, we constantly have to make allowances for someone who has, by definition, limited capacity to notice what we give... so I guess I *do* feel that in a very concrete way we are doing what we can with the suffering nearest to us. We're also in the beginning stages of the process to become emergency foster carers.

I know that looking after these kids, and dealing with the system, is going to be hard. And yet our lives will still be so easy compared to those of people affected by things like this disaster - and the people you spoke of too.

Perhaps that's why I feel I need to witness it? I do feel changed by it. It's the first really big disaster that has happened since I became a step-parent, and that has changed me.

I guess there is an extent to which I am using it to test my capacity for compassion - to be able to be with the feelings of inadequacy. To neither block out nor collapse in the tragedy of it.

But you are right - there is tragic suffering everywhere, and the world is a mess, and 24 hour rolling news is incredibly selective about what it covers. And I'm selective about what I give my attention to, and there's little congruence in my choices!

Jean - thanks again for provoking these thoughts.

Would you believe the captcha text is "forsolus"?

Anonymous said...

Jean, you raise really good questions. News is such a fraction of what's going on in the world, chosen for its commercial value. I don't think the people who produce the news are cynical or manipulative, but the outcome of disseminating constantly and widely a sliver of happenings is manipulative and to what end is a good question. I used to avoid tv news, and given your post, I'm wondering about it again. I get more balanced "news" by following a range of blogs and newspaper/magazine headlines (through twitter). What can we do about it? We can help, but we can't help every situation. At any given moment, there are many disasters all over the world, private and public, dramatic and quiet. As a single person, how could anyone possibly assimilate millions of people's difficulties? I think we can only understand so much, we can only feel so much, and help so much. And if we do what we can it's enough. It's okay to be one person and feel and do one person's worth.

Fire Bird said...

I like Lilian's idea of doing 'one person's worth'. This, really, is all we can do. Here, in our own immediate environment. I do not have a tv, and although I look at some images online selectively, I do not feel I would be helped by the kind of footage you describe in feeling any better equipped to do my one person's worth, and being very sensitive like you, more likely the reverse. And as Dale points out, suffering is continuously present around the world and much of it forgotten and ignored by the media. Which doesn't feel ok either...
No answers, but the discussion feels healthy.

Jean said...

Fire Bird, I don't have a TV either - got rid of mine a long time ago and never regretted it. The video footage I've watched on the BBC News website is quite enough for me.

Lilian, like Fire Bird, I found your reference to 'one person's worth' of attention and reaction very resonant.

Thank you all for having such honest and sensitive things to say. Reading your comments has really helped me to 'hold' my own thoughts and feelings.

I have a further post coming up.

Jan said...

Is it not the very human connection we feel to people around the world that tugs most at our hearts? I'm not sure if I should take comfort that this is a step forward in human awareness: we no longer are prone to think simply in terms of local news and people close to home. The realization that people anywhere are hurting leads me to break out my check book again, even knowing it is hard to spread out donations when so many are hurting. I find it a time to reach out financially and pull back emotionally; to sit in meditation and send love, peace and hope to those most in need. What else can we do?

Jean said...

Jan, I think we end up in the same place, on what matters most. I just have these questioning thoughts though, about the media - I don't think we CAN feel the same degree of personal connection to everyone everywhere - though there is a sense, of course, in which we are all completely connected. If we try to accommodate that, I fear we'll all implode, except those who manage to shut down their hearts and not care at all. Indeed, all there is in the end is to look for someting practical to contribute, and to 'sit with' all the rest.

Thomas E said...

The news about Japan is terrible at the moment. I agree with you there. I hate looking at it, but it is like a carcrash... you kind of have to.

I think I'll go back to looking for Rhubarb recipe's before I really depress myself.