Rolling News

Yesterday there was, as everybody knows, a siege at a coffee shop in Sydney.

News events like the siege can represent a backdrop to the day. In the students’ lounge there is a wall-mounted television which generally shows BBC News 24. So you teach a lesson, come down for a coffee, get abreast of the news, go back up charged with fresh (or not-so-fresh) information, and so on through the day.

Certain sorts of news, it has to be said, are particularly beloved of rolling news channels, and the siege was a case in point. Long periods of inactivity are filled with various sorts of analysis and updates; details come in on the background to the situation; action when it happens is dramatic, and the cameras are necessarily trained on the spot where the action will unfold.

I am not sure if this is a good thing. It might be that the best model for news consumption is still the morning newspaper, a summary of whatever has passed of note in the previous twenty-four hours or so. After all yesterday, with all that rolling news about the siege, I missed the fact that rouble had fallen off a cliff again – in the long term, perhaps a more significant, but less televisual, moment in global affairs.

And what is true of global news is true also of the low-level stream of personal news we live through each day. We are assailed by notifications, of mails or mentions on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or any number of calls on our attention. These are our personal rolling news.

Oliver Burkeman writes regularly in the Guardian that we are approaching a point where we will have to treat our email like a social media stream, something you dip into and out of without ever feeling the need to read exhaustively. Just as I did yesterday with the siege – coming down at set times, updating for a couple of minutes, then ignoring for a couple of hours as a different sort of information stream – a lesson – unspooled elsewhere.

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