Saturday, June 16, 2007

Media fast

My grandfather used to advocate a “cherry fast” once a year – he advised that eating nothing but cherries for a week would “purge the system”. No one’s sure if he was serious.

But for the past several weeks I’ve been on a media fast of sorts. It all started with my wife and the Virginia Tech shootings. I’ve been in a 20-year habit of listening to NewsRadio (KSL in SLC, WTOP in Washington, D.C., WOAI in San Antonio). It started during my commute, but then spilled over to the bathroom radio while getting ready for work.

The VT killings brought a lot of bad news to a peak that week. My wife asked, “Why do you listen to that? Why don’t you listen to something more positive?” The fam gave me an iPod for Christmas, so we got an iHome player for it.

Now, instead of turning on the radio in the bathroom in the morning, I turn on my iPod. Instead of troubling my spirit, I’ve been nourishing my spirit. I select what I listen to: Mormon Tabernacle Choir music (my “Bishop Mix” from my iPod, put together for my executive secretary and those waiting for an interview), classic talks by Elders Hugh B. Brown, S. Dilworth Young, and Matthew Cowley.

(Interesting that 30 years ago as an LDS missionary, as part of my assignment in the mission office, I would record talk tapes from the mission library for missionaries who ordered them; because we had a real-time tape-to-tape recorder, I usually listened to the tapes as they were recording – nothing was very high speed in 1977…so I listened over and over to some of the same talks I’ve now downloaded from the BYU Broadcasting web page).

I’ve also been listening to Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” “News from Lake Wobegon” monologue (a podcast from iTunes -- although, one of the more recent ones was too coarse for my taste); LDS General Conference talks (like Elder Holland’s “Broken Things to Mend” and President Hinckley’s “The Things of Which I Know”), BYU Devotionals (like Bonnie Parkin’s “Personal Ministry: Sacred and Precious”), CES Firesides (like Elder David A. Bednar’s “A Reservoir of Living Water”), and other various and sundry things (like Steve Jobs 2005 Commencement Address at Stanford).

I’ve been a political news junkie for 20 years, yet I find I don’t really miss the controversy stirred up to attract listeners. Back in the day, it was 22 minutes (not counting the commercials) to have Walter Cronkite, or Huntley & Brinkley, or Frank Reynolds give you the world. If it made the national news, it was something. Now, with 24/7 cable news, there is no news cycle. Only "breaking news" and drawing out endless commentary and debate. Lots of heat, but less light. I lament the hours I wasted during the Bill Clinton years, mired in the media mire. An eternal game of "gotcha".

I feel like I’m becoming a bit of an expatriate from ancient Athens where, scripture tells us parenthetically, “(For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)” (Acts 17: 21).

After my self-imposed “fast”, I find so much of modern media so crass, so coarse, so tasteless. Commercials are so intrusive, and sound so phony after you’ve weaned yourself away from them for a while. Yikes - we spend a lot of time in our culture selling stuff!

Nearly thirty years ago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn said this at Harvard (on the same day, unbeknownst to him, that the revelation on priesthood was announced – 8 June 1978):
Because instant and credible information has to be given, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors and suppositions to fill in the voids, and none of them will ever be rectified, they will stay on in the readers' memory. How many hasty, immature, superficial and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification. The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus we may see terrorists heroized, or secret matters, pertaining to one's nation's defense, publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan: "everyone is entitled to know everything." But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era: people also have the right not to know, and it is a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk. A person who works and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of information.

Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic disease of the 20th century and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press.

The psychic disease he described is now epidemic in the 21st century.

So, for anyone who noticed – I’m back blogging.

But I hope I’m different.

And I recommend a media fast at least once a year...

UPDATE: An article on a "media break" here.

And read about "TV Turnoff Week" here and here.


Blogger Garry Wilmore said...

This might not be a bad idea. A couple of weeks ago I asked my wife what she thought about some current political issue, and she responded in a way similar to what you express here. The essence of what she said is that the surfeit of negativity and bad news was wearing down her spirit, and I wonder if it is doing the same for me. I have always been a news junkie, even though I quit subscribing to newspapers about a year ago, mainly because there are so many other outlets now and a lot of my newspapers were going unread.

I'll let you know if I decide to do this, and if so, what kinds of results I get. I do appreciate the explanation of your long absence from blogging, which had left me a little concerned.

FYI, I loved that talk by Sister Parkin that you refer to here. It may interest you to know that I sent a link to it to Monir. The talk made me think of her because of how she has brightened my life essentially by just being herself.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Cristin Lassen said...

Good idea. Its all about Paris Hilton This and Britney Spears That now even on the supposed news stations.

1:53 PM  

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