On June 1, 1980, the Cable News Network (CNN) debuted and became the world’s first 24-hour television news network. Before then, you would have to wait for a small portion of evening programming dedicated to televising “the News” or wait for the morning newspaper on your doorstep. After that, you could go on living your life.
With the gradual advent of the internet in the 1990s and smartphones in the 2000s, the last thirty years have been an incessant stream of humanity being bombarded with what’s happening worldwide at all hours of the day. Tidbits of data from around the world are presented as if it affected every detail of your day-to-day existence, and it all demands your utmost attention, concern, and response (as writer and journalist, G.K. Chesterton attested, “Journalism largely consists in saying, ‘Lord Jones is dead’ to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive”). Journalism is now a rat race of outlets breaking the stories first, fact-checking afterward, and apologizing for mistakes never.
Anecdotally, I think we can all attest that this constant drip of global information hasn’t made us any happier or, perhaps, even better-informed. Over 80% of American adults reported feeling at least one emotion associated with prolonged stress, according to a study by the American Psychological Association earlier this year. “Right now, there is a degree of uncertainty that is unprecedented for most of us,” writes Jacqueline Bullis, PhD, a clinical psychologist in McLean Hospital’s Division of Depression and Anxiety Disorders. “When uncertainty is high, it drives our brains to seek as much information as possible to feel in control. In the long term, these behaviors are increasing our anxiety by feeding into this belief that if we have enough information, we can control what happens.”