I am of an age that remembers the children’s television programme ‘Why Don’t You?’ A programme that didn’t appear to understand the irony of their main proposition. That we should “just switch off our television set and go and do something less boring instead?”
It ran between 1973 and 1995. I admit I watched it in the seventies mainly. It is advice I didn’t really take on board back then, being an avid TV fan I enjoyed becoming lost in the screen. But it is certainly guidance I follow now. And that’s funny because I am not exactly a fan of guidance. Well, spoon-fed, rigid and unnecessarily detailed micro-management guidance I mean. Guidance that seems too plentiful, complex and fluid even for its authors or commissioners. Even they find difficulty in remembering or following it. I digress, a little.
We live in an information age. A too much information era. One full of rolling news, breaking news, hand-held computers, PCs, laptops, tablets, social media alerts and dialogues that bring out the worst in people more than it brings out the best. And now we are subject to Government information briefings.
Information and news should be giving us certainty and assurance. Instead it appears doubtful and tilted towards the worst-case scenario. Our attitudes towards and fears for risk and health and safety are being fuelled by endless speculation and polarised and mercurial opinions. Even the science is hypothetical it seems. Quite the oxymoron. Yet we are told the news and guidance is based on the science. What a contradiction. Is this really what the concept of ‘fake news’ is all about? Are we mired in the trap of conjecture instead of enjoying the freedom of fact?
All of this seems to be driving up general levels of concern and feelings of uncertainty. And this fuels anxiety levels. And anxiety drives depression and that results in all sorts of unhelpful and unhealthy behaviours and mental health concerns.
I am starting to think that ignorance is bliss. That I should just switch off that television set (and device, ‘phone, computer and Twitter account). I am looking at too much information throughout the day. It’s the first thing I look at in the morning, and the last thing at night. Sometimes during the night.
COVID-19 has ramped up the volume of content, the urgency and importance of it, and its serious implications. Like many I did look at the daily briefings at 6pm. In full lockdown, we watched Jamie cooking on Channel 4, then switched over to BBC1 for the Number 10 briefing. This lasted for a few weeks, then the content diminished (in culinary and information terms). The same graphs were rolled out and the statistics shared. It wasn’t news anymore. Now, it seems, we are starting to watch again to spot the gaffs, contradictions, confusions, and the disconnections. I have to admit though I have been part of the content. I’ve done national and international television, local TV and radio, national and local press. Children’s TV clearly taught me a lot about irony!
I should adopt the same principle I have adopted with the weather forecast. Don’t bother watching it. It is rarely accurate. And it is best to take an umbrella anyway. Just in case.