First Words

Consumed by the news

Does being a good citizen require keeping up with current events?

Ever since I started using my smartphone as a morning alarm clock, my wake-up habits have shifted. Instead of engaging in prayer to open my day—once a regular feature of my rising—or paying attention to the chipmunk that chirps outside my window, or conversing softly with my wife, I check the news. When I lean over the edge of the bed to shut off the alarm, I notice my screen displaying news alerts that arrived overnight. Of course I click on them, wondering what I might have heroically saved in the world had I stayed up all night.

While this reflex to tune into the news immediately is not as frightening to me as living in a household where Fox News or CNN saturates viewer eyeballs 24/7, it still troubles me. Like a billion other people, I’m consumed by the news. By the way, do we actually consume the news, or does the news consume us? Either way, it’s hardly a noble activity.

Alain de Botton, a British-based philosopher and author of The News: A User’s Manual, believes that in contemporary culture news has largely replaced religion as “our central source of guidance and our touchstone of authority.” The news—not scripture, tradition, or inspired ritual—informs how we handle suffering and make moral choices. A desire to know what’s going on all hours of the day and night actually makes us more shallow than we may want to admit.