WOSTER: That streamed, screamed news
I often think news used to be easier to manage — for readers and viewers, at least, if not for gatherers and distributors.
The 24-hour news cycle, go-anywhere connectivity and countless thousands of information sources make it a high-stress proposition just to figure out what's really going on. And everything is critically important, whether it's an investigation into Russian ties to the White House, a football quarterback who may have had a concussion last year or the lieutenant governor of Florida killing a 15-foot Burmese python with a pocket knife. It's all news, breathless news, streamed and screamed.
How easy it was in the days of three networks with evening newscasts, radio stations that played mostly music unless the World Series was in progress and afternoon newspapers to read leisurely in the living room after supper. We used to turn off the television after Walter Cronkite's "And that's the way it is.'' People read books, leafed through "Look'' and "Life'' magazines, listened to music. Pretty primitive.
Of course, social media existed even then. It was the coffee shop, the front steps of the church after morning Mass, or the pop cooler in the Farmer's Union co-op. Folks waiting to buy a fan belt or tractor grease would talk about Eisenhower and Kennedy and Nixon and the Communist Menace. For a break and a breather, they'd talk about the Dodgers and Yankees and Kansas City Athletics.
Tempers flared, sure, and voices were raised. But few people spent the rest of the day dwelling on the "haters'' who disagreed with them about Ezra Taft Benson or whatever other newsmaker they'd discussed. Current events didn't sit on the burner all day, reheating and bubbling.
Of course, information wasn't so instant, so in-your-face. A person offended by an Eisenhower-Khrushchev argument couldn't grab a phone or tablet and find dozens of information sources to confirm that things were far worse than reported. A conversation in the morning might not get revisited until the evening network news and the daily paper. Maybe the person would catch five minutes of news at the top of the noon hour, before the markets, weather and local happenings. Mostly, though, it was the newspaper and the evening news.
And we thought we could do better.
Now, my mom listened to Arthur Godfrey and "Our Gal Sunday'' as she worked around the kitchen, it's true. And my dad caught the start of the "Today Show'' once in a rare while when he got a late start for the farm. But weather and markets on WNAX usually started his day. The Daily Republic always finished it, read in the recliner in the living room after a dose of Cronkite, if he finished working early enough. Nobody wore headphones. Nobody carried so much as a transistor radio around town, unless, as I said, the World Series was in progress.
There I go with the World Series. "The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball," Terence Mann said in "Field of Dreams.'' Maybe conversations about the Cubs and Twins are our salvation.
Seriously, though, as I watch non-stop news or read the latest screaming screed about the end of the world, I want to shout, "Take a breath. Take your kid to the park. Go to the library and find a good book. Catch a fish. Sit by the river and watch the sun set."
It's unrealistic to expect a time machine to somehow return us to the evening paper and the network news. But it must be within our ability to take a breath, relax with the local paper, consider critically most of the online information and ask ourselves now and then, "Does this make sense?'' "What's the source'' and "who stands to gain'' are good questions, too.
In the movie "This is Spinal Tap," the volume knobs on the band's amplifiers go to 11, instead of the normal 10. When I played guitar with the "Standbys," we kept the volume at 3, certainly no more than 4. That was plenty for most crowds. We paused every three songs or so, too, to let the dancers catch their breath. It worked pretty well.