So do not worry about over there, for over there will bring worries of its own. Right here’s trouble is enough for right here.
I remember when my parents cut off our subscription to the local newspaper, the News-Register. It was not the price that was so much the problem, but rather the fact that stacks of unread papers would build and clutter the house. Seeing as the typical front-page headline was something like “Graffiti found outside Post Office” or “Local Runner Wins Local 5k”, there was little to worry about. We figured we could buy a single issue if anything important happened. I was in middle school.
As a “textbook” last semester, my class was required to subscribe to The New York Times. For the first time, I regularly read a newspaper. There came a new feeling of being aware of what was happening in the world today (okay, because it was print, yesterday). I knew about political turmoil in the Middle East, earthquakes in Japan, economic silliness in Europe and financial silliness in the United States. If you got me started, I could even rant about how the increased export revenue from oil into Nigeria was actually harming the poor African country’s economic development.
The torrent of news became a trickle while working at summer camp the past few months. Only two pieces of news reached my ears. First was the Norwegian camp shootings (which caused a small stir on our own staff, understandably enough), the second was that Amy Winehouse died (bigger stir). Not much else.
A funny thing about being a Global Studies major working at summer camp is that summer camp is perhaps the most “unglobal” place I could have ended up*. There simply isn’t much connection into the outside world: just a road, telephone line and spotty wi-fi and cell signals. The mail comes six times a week, I suppose.
Since returning from camp and skimming the headlines to see all that I missed, I stumbled across an interesting op-ed from Neal Gabler. In it, he laments that in our hyperactive world of rapid communication,
We are like the farmer who has too much wheat to make flour. We are inundated with so much information that we wouldn’t have time to process it even if we wanted to, and most of us don’t want to.
There is some nagging sense, and I think I’ve inherited it from the culture around me, that one of the worst possible sins as a member of the 21st century world is to be ignorant. Know: any humanitarian crisis, any border dispute, any national revolution (we seem to be free from the responsibility to understand the latest economic issue, but it is expected of us to have an opinion on economic matters). Like a monk to his prayers, a global citizen must devote herself or himself to the papers. It is bad to be called ignorant, it is good to be called informed. But then we feel guilty when something happens we don’t understand. So we drown ourselves deeper into the information flood.
The funny thing is that Gabler is talking about social networking, not news reporting. But this other quote suggests to me that the two are much more alike than we think (substitute social media with news media in the following quote and see if it still makes sense):
Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Flickr, etc., the most popular sites on the Web, are basically information exchanges, designed to feed the insatiable information hunger, though this is hardly the kind of information that generates ideas. It is largely useless except insofar as it makes the possessor of the information feel, well, informed.
Spending a half-hour reading The New York Times over a half-hour spent on Facebook is about as significant an upgrade as choosing Gatorade instead of Pepsi. Unless you are an athlete, both are essentially sugary beverages lacking nutritional content. (The metaphorical question, then, is whether or not one is actually an athlete.)
There is a similar information flood working at Cascades Camp, although it takes a different form. In my role, I dealt with the logistics of various programs, even if I was not the one primarily responsible. Over the course of this summer, I heard and felt the weight of 60-plus testimonies. Every day, a new inside joke. Never mind there were bible studies to prepare, small medical crises to band-aid, meetings to be had. Such a challenge required me to be fully present.
If I had wanted to “inform” myself and spend time catching up on, say, the ongoing Palestinian bid to become a state, it would have been irresponsible. As important as the Palestinian struggle is, I would have been dunking myself into the wrong information flood, worried with a distraction I could have done nothing about. My ability to serve at camp would have been compromised through mental absence.
(FYI, I’m catching back up on the whole Palestinian thing, with the added bonus of only needing to read the news blurbs that ended up mattering in the end, skipping over the false alarms and empty spectacles. It actually takes a while for history to be made.)
I have come to terms with the fact that, as far as global affairs go, I can never be anything but ignorant. When I graduate with my fancy fresh Bachelor of Arts in Global Studies this May, I will not know even 1% of what is going on in the world today. Which is pretty cool. That subtle thrill that comes with knowing that wonder and awe, not comprehension and mastery, characterizes the adventure of global citizenry.
Really cool, actually.
* A part of Global Studies is achieving multicultural experiences, and working at camp in Washington state, which is really just a bourgeois version of my home state, seemed like a super-fail to me. Yet throughout the summer we had to adapt our programs to meet the needs of Bhutanese refugees and our facilities to support Slavic, Hispanic and Korean groups; amongst others. In my particular role I did not interact with these groups much, but I thought this particular influx was a testament to how thorough globalization is, that even a place like summer camp is having to adapt to it.