Squeezing life between the news feeds


I tuck the kids in every night. Nothing unusual in that. But a couple of nights ago I went into the bedroom found our youngest son quietly sobbing in the dark. I gave him a hug, then waited a bit before asking, “What is it?”

“I miss Gracie,” he said.

I didn't quite expect that. Our puppy Gracie has been gone for a couple of years now, neatly buried in the woods. That was one house move ago for us—and an eon ago to a boy, I’d expect.

But life is like that, continually looking forward but rarely looking back. It reminds me of the news feed on Facebook or the news feed from any news source. The ‘new’ news just keeps on coming, replacing the old. So what happens to the old stuff?

Who knows? And there’s a whole lot of old stuff out there, especially now on the Internet. According to one site I found, there are more than 250 million websites on the Internet, and we exchange over 100 trillion (yes, trillion) e-mail messages a year—at a rate of about 300 billion a day!

What that really means is the pressure of the “now” greatly overrides the rapidly deflating memories of the past.

This has proven to be a real boon to both newscasters and politicians. With so much of the public’s attention focused on the immediate present, the sins of the past can quickly disappear. A few weeks ago the public was curious, to say the least, about the manner of Osama bin Laden’s death. Today? Meh.

This goes for pretty much everything, from the flooding here in Charlotte County to what happened to NB Power after New Brunswickers kicked out the Liberals for wanting to sell the money-bleeding utility, and elected the Conservatives on the issue.

And the list of disappearing news nationally and internationally is staggering. Instant media phenomenon Julian Assange is all but forgotten. The Gabrielle Giffords’ assassination attempt is a distant memory (who was the shooter, again?).

By way of examples, here are the top stories from 2009. A U.S. major killed 13 people and injured 30 others in a shooting rampage at a Texas military base. A plane crashed in Buffalo, NY killing 49 people and one on the ground. An Air France jet disappeared over the Atlantic taking with it 228 passengers. North Korea threatened its southern neighbour with a military strike. A German teenager shot 15 people before killing himself. “Balloon boy” never left home in a runaway helium balloon. World leaders meet in Copenhagen for climate change agreement, which fails. A California man is accused of kidnapping an 11-year-old girl, and later investigated for murdering prostitutes. And a story you might remember, Barack Obama was elected as the 44th president of the United States. Those were just the big stories.

So with this constant tidal wave of news, how do we concentrate on the important things that need to be addressed, without experiencing some kind of media fatigue? By that I mean the singularly important things: like the global energy crisis, which will continue to intensify until we finally run out of fossil fuel.

Sure, we cover the symptoms, such as gas prices, or reports of the number of wounded or dead in America’s longest running wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But we seem incapable of addressing the larger issues, such as our addiction to a fossil fuel-powered economy, and the fact that the Indians and Chinese are just now ramping up their entry into the game.

And the simple facts are compelling. Already there are over 900 million people going hungry every night on planet Earth, while the world’s automobile fleet now exceeds that number by some 10 million according to one report I read. I don’t know about you, but I find something darkly sinister in those statistics.

As the onslaught of news increases, thoughtful discourse seems to be on the decline. We seem to have no public forums in which we can discuss issues such as fossil fuel depletion, climate change and world poverty. Instead, we have the polarizing of public debate into opposing, self-defeating ideologies—and faith-based defensive positions.

This, I think, is what happens to a species that loses its direct connection to its source of survival: the earth. And just as I begin to write this column, my kids run into the house to bring me back into that connection.

“Come outside and see this,” they say, and out we go to look. And there it is, the most impossibly small baby bird lying in the grass beside a fractured bit of eggshell. From the shell colour it looks to be a robin. We search for the nest in the nearby trees, but nothing. It must have been carried from the nest and dropped there by a predator.

So, what to do? What else could we do? We put the naked thing into a makeshift tissue-paper nest under a lamp on the buffet. The kids are hunting for worms, and to our surprise it’s taken a little food.

While I’m not overly optimistic, we’ll see how it does—and keep you posted in the upcoming news feeds.


  1. Delightful last paragraph. I have rescued a baby owl this summer and “we” are doing fine, so far. I call it the micro-world-rescue-mission. ;-)

  2. A great thought. I think we'll do much better with the micro mission. Collectively, things don't seem too successful at the macro level recently. Curious to hear about your owl...

  3. Perhaps it is the micro missions that are meant to sustain us. I am a depressive without the manic stage and I've found that if I focus on moments of happiness rather than expecting sustained joy that I am better for it. I like spending time with young children; they notice the connections that adults miss because we worry too much about what was and stress over what will come, to the extent that we totally miss the present until it becomes the past about which we worry. It's like being on a merry-go-round run by the devil.

  4. I think we are on a merry-go-round run by the devil. And, for the larger world, it seems impossible to get off. Our global economy depends on eternal growth, which has to be entirely unsustainable.

    Kids, on the other hand, aren't on the artificial growth cycle, they ARE the current (as in: right now) growth cycle. (If I sound as if I'm preaching, it's unintentional. I'm thinking this out as I type.)

    So yes, I have to agree, the micro-missions of life in the here and now keep us grounded, less stress-ridden and happier.

    On a related tangent, I watched the Transcendental Man documentary last night. It's about Raymond Kurzweil and his predictions (and work) on the merging of man and machine, which he calls the Singularity and predicts will happen in about 40 years. One of his personal missions is to recreate his own father, who died young of a heart attack. Kurzweil himself does not want to die, and believes that man-machine immortality is the probable future, from what I gather.

    This will be a merging of genetics, nanotechnology and robotics, or GNR in his lexicon, and central to that will be AI.

    This extends well beyond the micro mission of daily pleasure in the now. In fact it may well have dire physical consequences (imagine the negative possibilities of disrupting natural evolution).

    So, for me it comes back to Carl Jung, who predicted that the central challenge in the near future would be "man becoming God and God man." In that context he was grieving, I believe, the psychic loss of a higher authority, and the deep human need to have such an authority.

    Jung's conception of God, of course, is greatly misunderstood. God, in his interpretation, is a foundational part of our inner psychological architecture, and not an external "thing."

    And thus we depart our daily mortal pleasure and begin our merry-go-round ride with the devil. I'm curious to see how it all goes!

  5. Oh, and the baby bird died this morning. Our two youngest boys buried it in the back garden. It was a quiet ceremony, I believe, though I did not attend...

  6. I am so moved by this Gerry. In order of importance: your son's loss (the dog). Your connection with your son around this loss. Global climate warming. "Awareness, by itself, is therapy (Fritz Perls). The newborn bird, and its new "family". The need to shake off dispair (mine) and instil a little more optimism (yours), even when understanding death is inevitable. The optimism is about the kids, the family.

  7. Thanks Anon. I hope that I retain enough optimism, though sometimes that's difficult for all of us. Kids and family definitely help, and helps keep us grounded in the present... Despair happens but thankfully is rarely permanent!


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