Written by Ylva Bugge-Nilsson.
Edited by Paisley Regester.
The framework of normality has transformed over the past few years in the wake of an overwhelming number of extraordinary events. Brexit was enforced, the radical right has slowly, but steadily, been gaining ground in Europe, and the issue of climate change continues to pose challenges to our planet’s health. Much of Australia was burnt to the ground a year ago and human rights breaches by the Chinese government are constantly being reported. Not to mention the continuous flow of sexist, racist, untrue or just plain ignorant words spoken by the now former, American president. Then, as a sour cherry on top, a global pandemic arrived and the American Capitol was stormed. When combined into this miserable mixture, it feels like the news acts as a needle, poking our emotions to a point of numbness.
Due to the introduction of 24/7 news channels and today’s massive media platforms, the chase for sensation has never been more intense. As a consequence, everything and anything is often presented as urgent and unique, crying out for our attention. Imagine if, just as you are about to answer a call, the fire and burglar alarms go off simultaneously, and a moment later the doorbell rings. What would you do? The point is, when everything appears equally important, prioritising becomes difficult. One could say that when the trivial is disguised as crucial, it becomes difficult to know when to react with an eye roll and when to be concerned about what is seen on the news. Take Trump’s speeches for instance. First of all, they have stopped being news, in the sense that there is nothing new about them. What probably is more concerning is the fact that for them to incite the same amount of distress as they once did, they have to be slightly worse than previous sayings. Thus, the risk of us unconsciously allowing him to take a more and more radical and populistic standpoint becomes more of a reality. By nature, a lack of reaction is disparagingly easy to ignore.
How often do you notice that a news article did not invoke any particular emotion in you?
Probably not that often, because why would you care about not caring? The answer lies in the fact that normality is in no way a set size, but instead is a dynamic element shaped by the way society perceives the world.
Many of us read and listen to news everyday and therefore are exposed to multitudes of serious issues several times a day. We would be exhausted if we were emotionally burdened with all the negative, provocative, concerning or distressing pieces of information that we are offered throughout a day. Most of the time, our minds are too smart for that to happen. For example, in the previously mentioned example, if the fire and burglar alarms were going off at all times, we would eventually stop being startled by their noise. Evolution has yet again given us a helping hand, or more precisely in this case, a brilliant brain. The concern is that this adaptiveness could make us become too used to situations and behaviours that demand opposition or compassion. After all, isn’t ignorance of a problematic situation equally as bad as the situation itself?
These first months of the year have become a symbol for new beginnings, for change. People have decided to start working out, call their mums more often, and spend less time on their phones. They have committed to drinking more water and going on detoxes. Personally, I do not care much for New Year’s resolutions. Change should be made when change is needed. However, this time a detox might, for once, be the perfect solution. To take a moment to recharge and gain some headspace. For me that includes two days of watching MasterChef instead of news channels. Listening to songs from the boyband I used to love at the age of fourteen, and still know all the words to, instead of educational podcasts. No crises other than panna cotta not setting and the heartache that follows unrequited love. In other words, there is no reason for any alarm to go off. For a little while, ignorance truly is bliss. Taking a break from the world around us might not be a groundbreaking suggestion, but it is effective nonetheless. It gives us the time to recalibrate our emotional compasses. Understandably, they can easily get a bit out of balance in the interactive and complex media reality we live in today, which consists of a chaotic conglomeration of crises and tragedies, heated debates, fake news, and polarised politics. All of it seasoned through research and empirical work, along with the latest gossip.
What is the point of all this? Hopefully, to remind you to check your own emotional blind-spots. To pay attention to how news and information affects your thoughts and feelings, or even more importantly in this case, how it does not affect you at all. Ignorance and indifference do not fit into either a constructive public debate, or a well-functioning democracy.
Emotional fatigue will fan the flames of every strain of undemocratic power that hides in all corners of the world. Certain things must remain uncomfortable and scary.
We simply cannot allow ourselves not to care.