No News is Good News

On April 18, 1930, at 8:45 pm British citizens who gathered around their radios to listen to the BBC news segment heard the following: “Good evening. Today is Good Friday. There is no news.” That announcement was followed by fifteen minutes of piano music and, I’m guessing, a fair bit of stunned silence in living rooms throughout the country.

Can you even imagine a news outlet making such a statement today? And if they did, can you imagine how we, the consumers, would react? I suspect the very absence of news would be viewed as a story in itself. Other media outlets would likely report that the BBC was losing its edge and failing in its duty to bring the news to the citizens of the world. Pundits might jump in with their own form of criticism, loudly arguing with one another about the new role of the media in propagating the nonstories of the day and longing for the good old days of the 24-hour news cycle.

on air
The news never stops. Even when it does. photo credit: San Diego City College 2018-0510-SDCCRTVFx010 via photopin (license)

Because we definitely live in a world driven by news. Whether it’s good, bad, fake, or irrelevant, it’s around us all the time, demanding our attention and affecting our mental health.

I’ve written about this before, about the need to occasionally take a little break, something I think all of us should consider occasionally doing. But I recently had a pretty lengthy experience doing just that.

I am not a strict adherent to the tradition of fasting from something during Lent. Still, this year, it occurred to me that I might have something in my life that I would genuinely benefit from giving up.

I chose, for forty days, to give up the news. I didn’t give up the news entirely of course. I’m on the internet a lot and I saw plenty of headlines. Also, scrolling through social media I occasionally spotted a story that had people riled up. But I tried very hard not to engage much with the stories I saw. I even entirely gave up my primary source of news, which for quite a few years has been talk radio.

news mic
Most of the time I really would rather listen to piano music. If only it didn’t make me sleepy behind the wheel. photo credit: San Diego City College 2018-0510-SDCCRTVFx008 via photopin (license)

For about two weeks, it was hard. Like really hard. I had this constant, nagging feeling that I was missing out on important discussions about important events that would dramatically shape the future of the world and how human beings relate to one another.

Then I realized, I wasn’t. Because any of the big stories, like the shootings in New Zealand, the fire at Notre Dame, or the bombings in Sri Lanka, managed to get through. And thankfully some other stuff didn’t. For example, for 40+ days, I had no idea what snarky tweets President Trump had sent out into the world, or what new candidate had thrown his or her hat into the Democratic presidential primary race, or what any of the Kardashians were getting up to.

And that felt kind of amazing.

For that forty days plus Sundays, my mind became a little less cluttered, my stress level became a little lower, and my perspective became a little bit healthier. It was like a great big mental cleanse. I thought I’d probably more or less stick with it by intentionally limiting my exposure to constant news.

kardashian
Some news I can definitely live without. photo credit: Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer Kim Kardashian via photopin (license)

Then today I had to make a long, early morning drive. Because music tends to make me sleepy behind the wheel I turned on talk radio. I found out that former Vice President Joe Biden is now the twentieth person officially running for the Democratic presidential nomination and that President Trump has already tweeted snark about it.

Neither of these two pieces of information was much of surprise. It kind of seemed like there really was no news to report, at least not at that time of today. Or perhaps the news outlets I tuned in to just weren’t reporting on the most surprising or fascinating stories. I mean, I still don’t know what the Kardashians have been up to lately.

 

Here Be Dragons at the Edges of the Map

I don’t know about you, but to me it feels like the world gets to be a little bit scarier every day. This probably has a lot to do with our 24-hour news cycle. That opens up space for the regional tragedies of which many of us might have remained blissfully unaware, preoccupied with the goings-on in our own little corners of the world. More news also invites more commentary, creating increased competition to place the most sensational spin on every big (or not so big) event, whether it carries a ring of truth or not.

It can get overwhelming, and there’s little doubt, at least here in the US, we are more stressed out than we were when we didn’t have to pay as much attention. A glance at our social media feeds might suggest, too, that we’re not as kind and gentle with one another, either. Because the world is a more frightening place when the dragons in the fairy tales become real.

Encased in an armillary sphere among the rarest of rare collections in the New York Public Library is a sphere about five inches in diameter, which carries this dire Latin warning: HIC SUNT DRACONES or “Here Be Dragons.”

globe
Illustration of Hunt-Lenox globe.By Kattigara (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Known as the Hunt-Lenox Globe, the hollow sphere of engraved bronze is one of the oldest existing globes produced since Columbus originally sailed the ocean blue in 1492. Though it bears no date, people who know about these things have placed it somewhere in the 1504 to 1511 range, when the Pacific Ocean didn’t yet exist and the continent that would come to be known as North America was no more than a spattering of islands.

But what I find most exciting about the Hunt-Lenox globe is that it warns of the dragons of Southeast Asia. Dragons weren’t an uncommon sight on maps of the era, often gracing the edges or wide open spaces, but this is the only globe (with exception of a matching one created on an ostrich eggshell and probably the original from which the Hunt-Lenox was casted) that actually bears the warning.

dragon
Okay, maybe they’re not all scary. Image courtesy of cocoparisienne, via Pixabay

The expression is probably borrowed from maps of Ancient Rome, that often displayed the phrase “Here Be Lions” in unknown territories. Of course everyone knows dragons are scarier. And I mean everyone.

From pretty much every corner of the world, comes a fairy tale or two in which a dragon kidnaps a princess or guards a mystical treasure or becomes a frozen zombie creature north of the wall. Whether being slain by St. George, or ending a drought, or befriending a runaway foster child named Pete, dragons are everywhere in the stories people have been telling for millennia.

It’s no wonder the phrase “Here be dragons” has come to symbolize the frightening unknown on our maps.

komodo
Komodo Dragon. No wings. No fire breathing. Kind of cute. Might just eat you if given the chance.

Except that it hasn’t. Not really. It’s just this one globe. And there’s even an outside chance that the unidentified cartographer was referring to literal dragon-like creatures in Southeast Asia, where the Komodo Dragon can be found. Though it has yet to breathe fire, this creature is pretty cantankerous and can give you a nasty infection. And maybe eat you.

I would prefer to think the creator of the Hunt-Lenox globe, like the ancient cartographers before him, chose to issue a warning a little more vague in nature. Like the rest of us, he’d surely heard tales of dangers unknown. And maybe sometimes that’s quite enough to cope with. There’ve always been dragons at the edges of the map. We just haven’t always had to attempt to slay them all at once, all day, every day.

So this coming Monday, February 26, to celebrate National Tell a Fairy Tale Day, I’m going to take a little time to ignore the dangers and nastiness that threaten to infect and consume me. Instead I’m going to turn off the news and let the dragons recede, for just a little while, to the edges of the map.