Twenty-five years ago, the Berlin Wall came down. I watched this spectacle on a solar-powered TV in a small Senegalese village (so small, in fact that not even the Google car has found it yet). The sound was bad and with my high school French, I struggled to understand it. I knew in the events leading up to it, that Berliners of both side were permitted to travel back and forth and I thought this was simply more of that. I had to ask around for a few days until I confirmed that, yes, it had come down.
I was eighteen years old at the time and while I missed home, there was a weird, helpless feeling not knowing what was going on. In that village, there was no electricity and few people had radios. The TV belonged to the village and was turned on once per night. The news would be presented in the majority language of Wolof, then again in the official language of French (or maybe I have it reversed). There were no shops so I couldn’t even scan newspaper headlines.
So I spent three months seeking out radio broadcasts or finding newspapers. I particularly liked the International Herald-Tribune. Late 1989 was a time of several historic events like the fall of communism, the impending release of Nelson Mandela, and the massacre at Ecole Polytechnique. I struggled to get details on all these events.
I’m not sure why it was important that I was aware of these things as they happened. My immediate knowledge of these events wasn’t going to change them. Perhaps it was because I wanted to be a journalist in those days and would eventually go to school for that. I made that my excuse to inhale news. Whatever the reason, I hated not knowing of certain events which is a silly thing to hate, really.
Later, when I attended a community college radio journalism programme, as part of our coursework, we had to run a community radio station. The newsroom had a teletype machine that I would watch type out breaking news. I loved the idea that as soon as I pulled that off roller, I would be the first to share this news over a closed circuit PA system with a bunch of disinterested agricultural students. I guess it was like being given a secret.
I would later repeat this behaviour at an FM station in Saint John where I did a work-study thing (I also may have sabotaged my career by refusing to work as an unpaid intern when my work-study stint was over). In the end, it may have been for the best. And later, when I attended university to get a degree in English, no Drama, no just English, I did the same thing and spent more time at the campus radio station than I did in class. But I did get to interview Svend Robinson and Rage Against the Machine, though not at the same time.
On trips out of Saint John to larger centres, I would find well stocked magazine stores so I could load up on alternative magazines like the Humanist in Canada, the Progressive, This, and Might. I wasn’t just interested in getting the news, I wanted to get a specific take on the news before I got the news. I subscribed to newspapers, went straight to the opinion pages. It wasn’t just that I wanted to be informed, I wanted to make sure my opinions reflected those of writers I admired and wanted to emulate as a journalist. I realize, of course, that this is what they call cognitive bias.
So, as you may imagine, when the internet became widely available and little more user-friendly for the masses, I declared that I had been waiting my entire life for this point. In the 2000s, it became extremely easy to tailor your bias through the news you consumed by simply choosing to read websites and bloggers who leaned a certain way and then declaring yourself well-informed.
Today, I still do this. My phone gets news alerts from CTV and Huffington Post. I love Flipboard for Sunday morning reading and when news breaks, I go to Twitter.
But I’m backing off a bit these days, in baby steps. I try to get other views on events, not just the ones that conform to my biases. And it’s really ok if I miss a story here and there. The fact remains I changed careers long ago, or simply realized that my original career just wasn’t going to happen, as they say these days, because of Reasons.
With all that said, it’s worth noting that my addiction to information was generally national and international news and almost never local, which I found dull. Today, that’s changed somewhat as, while it’s easy to find sources of national and international news, local news can actually be a challenge so I’ve been seeking out that out a bit more.
I think this has been just a roundabout way of me saying that I’ve been waiting all my life for nonstop, multiplatform access to news and opinion and now I have it and now I think its finally enough.