Yesterday’s reporting on NPR’s All Things Considered: “Will Trump Fire Robert Mueller?” It is the question of the moment—this moment—due to a recent series of presidential tweets. The news being reported isn’t news, of course. It’s conjecture. Filler. Fluff. Pandering. I turn off NPR, which I usually love. Today I’m tired and frustrated. My head aches.
Conjecture as news. News as entertainment. These ideas weigh on me heavily, daily. But I don’t really think about it. I don’t have time. Instead, I check my phone. Google News leads with the same story, this time from either The New York Times or Washington Post: Will Trump fire Robert Mueller?
I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.
I do care. I want to care. I don’t want to care.
I open Facebook and it’s trending. Will Trump fire Robert Mueller? Twitter is yelling. Isn’t Twitter where this mess all started? Will Trump fire Robert Mueller? My eye twitches.
Later, at work but not working, I inhale more news via desktop browsing. Reuters. The Guardian. The Atlantic. Vox. CNN. Fox News. I take it all into my body. I chew without taste.
Will Trump fire Robert Mueller?
Information everywhere and nowhere. I close my eyes for a brief respite from the visual noise, and I wonder what energy my readers and I will have for Behind the Setlist. Is there anything left for us? We were spent before we even rose from our beds.
Listen. I get it. If the president did axe the head of the special counsel investigating his campaign it would be major news. The type of news that should be talked about all day.
But that’s not what’s happening.
What’s happening is that our transparent and juvenile president releases steam on Twitter and our media laps it up like dogs. In turn, we lap it up like dogs because we have been trained to consume the news at every minute of every day, whether or not it is actually news.
News as entertainment. Entertainment as consumption.
This cycle, this daily cycle—because God knows tomorrow there will be more news for us to lap up—has me convinced we are in the midst of a mental recession. We don’t think. We consume.
We Google. We Facebook. We recap. We rent knowledge, like good millennials.
The mental recession is not the media’s fault, and it is certainly not Trump’s fault. Trump is just a reflection of our own attention spans. He is a walking iPhone notification. Zeitgeist in real time.
Rather, the mental recession is a consequence of our complete and unabashed surrender to the streamlined internet. Technology as food. Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft. We call these corporations “tech companies” to make ourselves feel better about their dominion over our lives. But the truth remains—we have embedded the minutiae of our lives into the source code of today’s major corporations. These corporations dictate the information we consume. They compile our data and influence our decisions. And just like our parents’ corporations, they operate with limited accountability and transparency.
But look at that fancy new iPhone. The display goes to the edge.
Let me take a breath.
One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to curb phone usage in bed. So at night, instead of charging my phone on the nightstand, I leave it in the living room and forget it exists for a few hours. The results have been amazing. I sleep better. I read more. I’m like Kyle Gass at the end of The Cable Guy. In the morning, I don’t wake up and grab my phone; instead, I get out of bed and start my day on my own terms. It’s been refreshing.
I will eventually hear or read the day’s news. I will see what’s trending. The world will tell me what’s most important to it. But I will not consume that information until I’m ready, and hopefully I will be able to determine whether or not that information is truly important and worth my time.
You can read the news once per day, or once per week, and still be an informed citizen.
You can take a beat. You can allow yourself the time to reflect.
You can ignore what’s trending. You can choose. You can read, say, independent publications like Behind the Setlist. Or you can read a book. You can be still.
Technology wants to take choice away from us because it believes minimalistic culture and algorithmic control is in our best interest. It also wants to tell us what’s important so it can better predict and dictate our future decisions. How much more will we surrender?
I want to be the rebel. I want to win the war. I want to eschew this mental recession.
But I’m not sure how. I’m not sure. I’m not.
Post Script: This may have been an odd article for a music journalism publication, but Behind the Setlist was founded on the idea that good music is worth investing in and that independent journalism is worth fighting for, even if Facebook downgrades our work and Google’s SEO algorithm discourages our creativity and nuance.
But also, I must confess, technology and the internet is all I’ve been thinking about lately (maybe that fantastic recent X-Files episode struck a chord). Spotify and other streaming services are a different headache. Music has survived the internet, yes, but in the worst way—by diminishing its value for the sake of ubiquitous convenience.
This is a conversation for another day, however. Thanks for reading and supporting Behind the Setlist. Until next time, I’ll be watching the ending of Escape from L.A. with new reverence.