Are we desensitized by news?


Information Overkill.. Thomas Leuthard Creative Commons

Jeremiah Hobbs

“Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” so called the paper delivery boy back in the day, before instant news streams and instant information. Back then, with only print newspapers to get news from, a 30-minute or one hour long slot for news in television and radio, an understanding existed that so much was happening in the world all the time that decisions had to be made as to what would be reported and what wouldn’t.

Then, more television channels came about. The twenty-four hour news cycle was invented. And once the internet and cell phone dispersed all over the world, the twenty-four hour news cycle wasn’t only limited to television.

All this instantaneous data has culled the question, “Are we being desensitized by news?”

Think back to the last time you heard a news story, something on your Facebook news feed, a Tweet, a blog post, an article, probably here on The Paisano itself. Do you remember what it was about? What it had said?

The answer is yes if you just read it before this, but if it was a day ago, or even earlier this morning, probably not. Information is coming at us from every angle: television, the internet, apps, other people. You shouldn’t feel ashamed for not remembering every single detail about a news story. Yet, we do need to know what’s happening out in the world.

My wife and I were discussing this very subject a few days ago. We were talking about the Sandy Hook shooting back in 2012. It had sounded vague in my head, with connections to the gun debate and mass school shootings. I remembered watching news on the shooting; I remembered listening to every detail. That was all back in 2012, and now, early 2017, about five years later, it was a name I only associated to a list of mass school shootings whose details were vague.

She reminded me that Sandy Hook was an elementary school, not a high school, as I had thought. Not only that, several children between five and eight had been killed. I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t remembered any of this. Yet, information drifts through the air from the internet, from my cell phone, that I couldn’t speculate as to how much news I see in a single day, let alone in the past five years. After a while, news tends to drown out news.

Maybe this desensitization has made the American public numb to news. Perhaps bombarding ourselves with so much information has desensitized us from taking in all the world’s data. Confronted with the realization that so much is happening in the world  continually we limit what we remember to our personal vicinity. News is now the new elevator music, droning on in the background.

Author Don Delillo raises an important question about too much information in his novel “White Noise,” and it’s worth repeating here: “What good is knowledge if it just floats in the air? It goes from computer to computer. It changes and grows every second of every day. But nobody actually knows anything.”