The news is a problem. It always is, one problem after another. Short problems and long ones, wildfires and wars and whatever else is going wrong. Even though most of the problems are thousands of miles away, I still receive constant updates on their status. Which is good if it prompts me to pray for those involved and give to help with relief. I’m glad the world is connected well enough for aid and prayers and concern to flow to far away areas of need. We need more of that, not less. But there’s a danger in it as well.
Streams of news are always ready to give me something to be worried about, something to be angry or sad about, someone to laugh at or admire – the daily cycle has it all, enough to engage the full range of my emotions. Enough to keep me busy, thinking and feeling, and enough to keep me distracted from thinking and feeling about other things, closer to home, that might demand more from me than a like and a share and a quick donation.
I heard an older lady in our town say that when she grew up here, “everyone knew what was on everyone else’s mantlepiece.” Obviously, their involvement in each other’s lives went far beyond what we usually experience now. These days we tend to spend our free time with televisions and tablets instead of talking to each other. Which means that instead of sharing in local news about the people around us, we’re filling our ears with headlines about strangers. The difference is, we don’t know them. We can’t. We can only know about them.
There’s no question that I know more about a bunch of famous people I’ve never met than I do about most of my neighbours. Does that seem odd? It should. In the history of the world, we are the anomaly. Our ancestors knew the people around them because they had no choice – there were no screens calling their attention thousands of miles away. If they wanted to talk, they had to use their mouths, not their thumbs.
For better or worse, the world has changed. For better or worse, we have a choice.
We can leverage our new connections for good across the globe, and we should. But while we’re at it, we need to make what has now become the more difficult decision to know and care about what’s going on locally. Maybe it’s not as exciting. Maybe it’s harder and more messy. But it’s where we’ve planted our lives, and where we have a chance to know the people involved personally. The problems across the globe do matter, because the people across the globe matter. Just like the people around me.