On the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere and doomscrolling the news
Even though he didn't actually ride through the streets waking the townsfolk with the cry that "The Redcoats are coming!", schoolchildren are still taught some version of the legend of Paul Revere. The story communicates something that seems utterly foreign today: That there was a time when news moved slowly. The newspapers of the Colonial era were generally published weekly, and that was about as much news as could be expected, considering the length of time it took to gather news from Europe -- reachable only via ocean sailings that took weeks to months.
■ Beyond its connection to the noteworthy historical figures involved, Revere's ride stands out as a rare story of immediacy in a time when news rarely traveled fast. The telegraph sped up the process by moving news faster than people (or pigeons) could carry it, but the news remained periodical until radio (and later television) could deliver live reporting.
■ Today, even war correspondents tweet in real time as the President of besieged Ukraine offers his own readouts of calls with prime ministers and proof-of-life videos. It is possible to immerse oneself in instantaneous coverage of the world without ever taking rest.
■ News production has mainly ceased to be periodical. The only way to give rationality a fighting chance is to make sure news consumption becomes periodical instead. It is indeed a bit ridiculous that NPR is offering "self-care" tips to help people far from the action to "cope with a stressful news cycle". A cornerstone of adulthood is the development of self-control. If it takes a news outlet saying, "Remember that it's okay to not be plugged into the news 24/7", then we really do need to consider what kind of adults we're letting loose into the world.
■ The world is surely better-off with services providing global news coverage 24 hours a day than it would be without; the BBC World Service remains one of the great contributions to an enlightened planet. And yet even the World Service sticks to bulletins on the hour and half-hour.
■ Faced with an all-you-can-eat buffet, everyone knows they must stop consuming at some point, and we don't consider it "self-care" to resist going back. It's just self-control. News needs to be digested over time, just as food does. If we're merely consuming all the time, we may be tickling the amygdala, but we're not satisfying actual needs. A complex world calls for careful thinking. To turn news consumption on and off based upon feelings is fundamentally selfish. Being informed and enlightened is a duty of a responsible citizen of the world. If we succumb to the addiction to noise, then we'll never reap the rewards of careful consideration.