I’m publishing this in 2022, but I started writing this at the end of 2021. The first part is my writing from my perspective in December 2021, the latter part brings us to today (April 2022).
Question to ponder as you read: What news event from the past few years has moved you to action?
I invited some friends over to try a new whiskey I bought. As we mulled over its peaty taste and attempted to have, in jest, sophisticated conversation about its origin, our conversation quickly reverted back to our usual twenty-something year old banter between a group of guys who grew up in London.
It was great and it felt normal; especially because that was the first time in 6 months I had welcomed friends over due to the easing of pandemic restrictions. We laughed and jeered about those of us who caved and downloaded Tik Tok, the physical shape we had all found ourselves in and the sheer absurdity of the situation as a whole. A question then rung out:
“Did you lot see the news?”
The room went quiet as everybody looked at one another. We all had the same thought running through our minds, but hesitated to vocalise it with the worry that perhaps there was something significant we’d missed. We were all quiet, until one person broke that silence to affirm our unifying thought:
“You’re going to have to be way more specific than that”
2020 was a year unlike anything we’ve ever seen, with our perceptions of normality being launched into orbit at speeds that would give SpaceX a run for its money.
But in 2021 I observed something that seemed to be a simple thought surrounded by an infinite amount of discourse: does anything even matter anymore?
Above this text is an image of a man sat at the desk of the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, with his feet up after successfully breaching Capitol Hill amidst riots caused by people disgruntled by a democratically elected decision. Around Christmas time 2021, I had a debate with my family as to whether or not that was, in fact, within the same year (it was). The looks of bewilderment and disbelief further cemented what I had been thinking: news comes hard and fast, then it’s gone like the wind, leading to a lot of desensitisation.
Fast-forward a few months: April 2022
Below are some notifications I received last week within 10 minutes of each other:
Whatsapp: *Redacted* Hey Dami, what were your thoughts on the latest partnership offer we recieved last week?
Twitter: *Redacted* Started Following you!
BBC News: The Mariupol street Strewn with Bodies
Gousto: New menu out now! Be the first to try the mouthwatering new recipes on this week’s menu 🍝
One needn’t be an astute observer to notice that one of those notifications is not like the others. Having access to such news/media and having it blended in with my day to day life updates, leaves me with a strange feeling of numbness when trying to process such things. Information saturation isn’t a new phenomenon. Ever since social media feeds became pocketable, we’ve gained access to the world from the palm of our hands.
There are countless think-pieces out there talking about the problem of over-saturation of information and I’m not trying to add to them. However, over the past few years, I saw people (including myself) becoming more and more unwillingly detached from reality. Maybe it’s because humans weren’t supposed to be exposed to this much information from around the world at the same time.
Hyper-stimulation doesn’t help either. I can quite literally buy something on Amazon with their one-click buy function, send a quick tweet, see a couple of stories from friends on Instagram and afterwards, tune in for live on-the-ground updates of war atrocities in under a minute. It’s often difficult to un-normalise things when it’s so easy to move on to the next area of focus with the swipe of a thumb.
Briefly revisiting 2020, my concern with desensitisation and fast news cycles became more apparent whilst I watched the George Floyd protests unfold. It was difficult, of course, because myself and the majority of black people everywhere were ladened with the anxiety that this would be another killing at the hands of law enforcement that would inevitably hit the news cycle and be washed away with the noise of the world shortly after.
This time, however, things were different. It could have been because lockdown 1.0 had removed a lot of life’s day-to-day distractions to the point where more people were paying attention, or perhaps because the agonising video of Floyd’s death was the long overdue trigger. Either way, people took to the streets and for the first time (in my relatively young life), I genuinely believed that this would move the world to action (and it did). The gnawing sense of anxiety didn’t leave me, however. I wasn’t overly-concerned whether people would take to the streets; I was more worried about when they would stop. Lockdown seemed to quieten the noise and over-saturation of life enough for that movement to really build the momentum it needed. But nevertheless, I was concerned.
I wasn’t the only one. I personally knew plenty of people who shared the same concerns.
When will the instagram feeds stop talking about this?
Will Derek Chauvin be convicted?
How long do we have people’s attention for?
When Chauvin was found guilty on all three charges for killing George Floyd, I felt a wave of relief for two reasons: Firstly, that justice prevailed and secondly, people still cared.
Fast news cycles and access to information all over the world at any given point can make keeping track of things (and even to an extent, caring about things) difficult. A police killing here, a missing person local to me, cold-blooded massacres in the country my parents (and a lot of my family) call home, it’s a lot.
Politicians seem to be switched on to this “fast news cycle” hack too: Ignore it until the people get bored and move onto the next thing. If, like myself, you’re a Brit, this will feel painfully familiar. At present, I’m yet again watching the latest (and I say latest because there have been several) scandal involving our government unfold. All the while, I can’t help but think to myself: “When is this going to become yesterday’s news and people forget about it?”
From Billions of £s being spent on track and trace systems that don’t work, to PPE scandals and lockdown misinformation, to secret parties, to migrants drowning in the channels off of our coasts and now being sent to Rwanda and so, so much more.
I’m not implying things weren’t done to address any of these issues. But I’ll repeat the question: What news event from this year actually moved you enough to do something about it?
More importantly, do you feel like there is anything you could do even if you wanted to?
In 2022 I’d like to reflect on how connected we are to our surroundings rather than our micro-realities within the palms of our hands. If all of your social media and messaging apps went down each time the government broke the rules, or a tragedy happened that shouldn’t have, we would be yanked out of our micro-realities back into our collective reality, where ramifications may not be felt instantly, but will manifest themselves as all-too-real consequences that will affect us.
To close, I believe that it’s important to remain alert and connected to the world around us whilst also understanding that the world is a big place. It’s virtually impossible to personally have an impact on 99% of issues taking place worldwide. We can, however, make an impact on the 1% that’s closer to home that can be addressed and can be changed. If we learn to not feel over-saturated and we’re able to identify societal issues that we can deal with here and now, our 1% will add up when others around the world do the same.