One wonders whether the torrent of stories could ever momentarily be made to dry up; whether—by an extraordinary effort of coordination—mankind might agree to behave so cautiously that, for a day there would end up simply being no news. Murderers the world over might delay their intentions, foolhardy swimmers would remain ashore, adulterous politicians would fix their attentions on the lawn. But the overseers of the news need never fear such scarcity. Statistics will assure them that by the end of any twenty-four-hour period, 3,000 people will unwittingly have lost their lives on the world’s roads, forty-five people will have been murdered across the United States and 400 fires will have broken out in homes across southern Europe—quite aside from any new and unforeseen innovations in the fields of maiming, terrorising, stealing and exploding.
*** It is never easy to be introspective. There are countless difficult truths lurking within us that investigation threatens to dislodge. It is when we are incubating particularly awkward ideas that we tend to feel most desperate to avoid looking inside. And that is when the news grabs us.
We should be aware of how jealous an adversary of inner examination it is—and how much further it wishes to go in this direction. Its purveyors want to put screens on our seat-backs, receivers in our watches and phones in our minds, so as to ensure that we will be always connected, always aware of what is happening; never alone.
*** We need relief from the news-helled impression that we are living in an age of unparalleled importance, with our wars, our debts, our riots, our missing children, our after-premiere parties, our IPOs and our rogue missiles. We need, on occasion, to be able to rise up into space in our imagination, many kilometres above the mantle of the earth, to a place where that particular conference and this particular epidemic, that new phone and this shocking wildfire, will lose a little of their power to affect us—and where even the most intractable problems will seem to dissolve against the aeons of time to which the view of other galaxies attests.
*** We should at times forgo our own news in order to pick up on the far stranger, more wondrous headlines of those less eloquent species that surround us: kestrels and snow geese, spider beetles and black-faced leafhoppers, lemurs and small children—all creatures usefully uninterested in our own melodramas; counterweights to our anxieties and self-absorption.