Absorbing the present history online
My newsgathering patterns online are fairly pitiful, and definitely not what they should be. I am probably more informed than the average person, because I am what is known colloquially as “Extremely Online”, but I do not read as many in depth articles as I often mean to. Like most people online it is probably more accurate to say that I read headlines than the news. Most of the headlines I read are shared on Facebook, where I follow a variety of outlets like the NYT, WaPo, The Intercept and some political organizations.
So a typical day of newsgathering, or rather news absorbing, could begin with me scrolling down facebook to see the awful clickbait headlines that every news outlets thinks they should post ([Celebrity] has PERFECT response to Trump tweetstorm), as well as the more direct headlines that are posted for actual news. I’ll also check reddit, specifically the news and worldnews subreddits, which typically offer a better, more concentrated array of stories. I normally don’t click on the actual story but I will look at the reddit comments, where sometimes people will post related stories or updates. As always the experience is strange, as a story about some vapid political sex scandal lays next to a story of ethnic cleansing in Burma, and your mind contorts wildly to absorb both simultaneously.
I do follow a handful of news outlets and journalists habitually. For example I read anything written by Jeremy Scahill, Naomi Klein, or Glenn Greenwald, all of whom work at The Intercept. I’ll also follow journalists on Facebook and sometimes end up checking people’s twitter feeds to see what is going on in the political/media establishment. It’s a dark habit, but as the internet becomes such a central aspect of modern communication, for better and worse, I really don’t think you can understand the modern world without being jacked into the matrix to some extent. I haven’t jumped into the abyss and made a twitter account yet, but I am planning on it, since the platform is weirdly ubiquitous among the media class.
As a committed reader, I do try to set aside a long read every once in awhile, if not every day to, actually sit down and fully absorb. I’ve found it is much easier to read a book for a long stretch of time than it is to read something online, where all of the distraction is so available, but it’s not impossible to read a long piece if you set aside the time. These are not always strictly news; sometimes I’ll read an essay, like this one on Colin Kaepernick, or this investigation into Dylan Roof, which was pretty incredible. I’ll also look deeper into a subject that I come across if it seems interesting, in the typical online pattern of going from one link to the next. So for example, the other day I was reading The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, and ended up searching for related stories online out of curiosity.
Unfortunately there is little rhyme or reason in any of this, other than the habits that form naturally without any planning. I don’t schedule a time of day that I am going to spend looking at news online, or looking into something that interests me. Obviously if I am actually researching something, then the pattern is very different, and I’ll usually just overload myself with various articles on whatever subject I am looking into, until I have three different browsers with 20 tabs open on each. That may at least be a strategy, but it is barely ordered.
In it’s own strange way the internet is a microcosm of history’s control over the present. Tuning into the myriad stories, forces, tragedies and farces that are shaping the world at any moment by going online is like stepping into a whirlpool that we find ourselves thrown by, rather than controlling. That reality isn’t anything new, but in a more isolated day to day life it is harder to feel the currents of history constantly churning. Being online allows you to be more in tune to current events and their historical context than ever before, but you are still in the maw just like everyone else.