When I was young, and even into my early adulthood, news sources were limited to three TV networks and the "also-ran" PBS, the local daily newspaper, and two or three weekly news magazines. The sources from which I received news could be counted on my fingers with one or two to spare.
Now, of course, we have a nearly infinite number of sources for news and commentary. This is good in the sense that news is available any time, anywhere, from any slant, and from sources as varied as bloggers and the New York Times online. What's increasingly obvious, though, is how the prevalence of opportunity to receive news has changed what's thought of as news.
This morning, Lyric and I were sipping coffee and surfing news sites, and we saw this story. We looked at one another and thought, "Seriously? This is a news headline on a major site?"
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) - Traffic noise could be ruining the sex lives of urban frogs by drowning out the seductive croaks of amorous males, an Australian researcher said Friday.
A well-projected and energetic croak is the male frog's most important asset in the quest to attract mates to his pond, Melbourne University ecologist Kirsten Parris said.
Come on. If this had been "discovered" in 1975, there's no way it would have made the top six headlines of the day. There was hardly enough time and newsprint space to discuss real news, let alone "made up" news. But this story on the misfortunes of amorous frogs comes right under "Poll: Americans losing confidence in Obama," giving it the aura of big news and demanding my attention on the same level.
The difficulty comes in weeding out the important things when they're all given the same prominence. We could all spend 24 hours a day reading stories that some source thinks everyone should read. One of the skills we must cultivate in this age of information overload is developing our own sense of the substantial and not someone else's. It's not easy. It requires focus and thoughtful decision-making, and the willingness to say "no" to what may feel like a trusted source. Half the world may be interested in whether a wrestler did or did not use steroids before his meet, but it's not something on which I need to be informed. Whether I am interested is different than whether the information is important or useful to me, and some days my tolerance of and appreciation for the trivial and the obscure is greater than others.
I often blog here and link to the silly or mundane or absurd. That doesn't obligate me to do it every day, and it certainly doesn't obligate you to follow every link or get wrapped up in every issue that's important to me. Only you can draw your own lines; the important thing is that you draw them.
The frogs will thank you. Really, they need their privacy.
Traffic noise could be ruining sex lives of frogs