Wrestling with the menacing media monkey on my back

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The first step to dealing with an addiction is admitting you have a problem.

So, here it goes: Hello. My name is Billy. And I’m a news junkie.

I’m not sure if there’s a 12-step program to treat my condition, but I know I’m in dire need of a remedy before I completely lose my marbles.

Remember that TV spot that used a skillet and a fried egg to try to scare drug users straight: “This is your brain…this is drugs…this is your brain on drugs. Any questions?”

Well, after a few decades of fiendishly mainlining the news, the effect has been the opposite of what I intended. Instead of being smarter, more informed and more sophisticated, I’m only more confused and befuddled. Instead of raising my IQ, this constant attention to the never-ending news cycle has caused my brain to become a jumbo-size deep fried egg sizzling in scalding hot hog lard.

Plus, the more media poison I’ve pumped into my system over time, the more my mood has soured. Before the very eyes of my family and friends, I’m turning into a two-bit facsimile of Archie Bunker, only a lot crankier, more cynical and more narrow-minded.

In fact, one study indicated that people like me who stupidly subject themselves to the relentless flow of tragedies, military conflicts, terrorist killings, earthquakes, tsunamis, homicide, suicide, political fighting, corruption, graft, poverty, child abuse, assaults, etc., suffer their own form of post-traumatic stress disorder. Many who follow ongoing developments of a tragic event experience more distress than the people who were actually involved in the tragedy.

My news jones happens to be a problem of my own creation, traced all the way back to 1982 when I decided it made perfect sense to parlay my affinity for writing and my Faustian thirst for knowledge into a career in journalism.

What a winning concept: I could be both a producer and consumer of news and information, blissfully walking through this mortal realm completely immersed, fully aware, deeply engaged in the world around me for the short time I’d be inhabiting it, chronicling every interesting thing I saw and heard. What could be the harm in that?

From a production standpoint, my writing career hasn’t been so bad, although deadlines have probably taken a few years off my life. Meeting deadlines always seemed to me like smoking Camel cigarettes: each time you burn down a pack, you’re shaving a few hours off the end of your lifetime – at least that’s what I read in the newspaper.

But, the benefit is that I’ve been able to pay the bills without having to toil as a Poultry Facility Excrement Eradication Technician. Plus, venturing from one end of rural Louisiana to the other meeting fine co-op people, doing interviews, snapping pictures, telling stories – has been as adventurous and fulfilling as I could have ever dreamed it would be.

No, it’s the consumption side that’s giving me fits, being a slave to the 24-hour news feed and trying to manage my pathological need to know absolutely everything that’s going on in the world at the very moment it’s happening, from the local HOA meeting to the latest session of the North Korean politburo.

I always figured that by staying au courant I would be able to hold my own during all those fancy Gatsby-style cocktail parties I’d be invited to once I became a jet-setter. Wanna discuss the ebola outbreak in West Africa? I can hold a cheese plate while detailing the symptoms of the disease, how and why it reemerged, the geopolitical impact on the region and what’s being done to stop its spread. Civil war in Syria, conflict in Gaza? Covered. Russian aggression in Crimea? On it. Rwandan genocides, drought in California? Check. Legal action over Common Core? Got it. City of St. George incorporation, local lawsuit over post-Gustav clean-up? Let’s talk.

Thing is, among the people I know, all anyone wants to discuss – including me – is how Drew Brees is recovering from his abdominal injury. And now that I think about it, I’ve never actually been invited to a Gatsby-style cocktail party.

At any rate, to be a junkie, a junkie’s gotta have junk. And thanks to websites, smart phones, social media and technology’s effect of driving everyone into their own impenetrable ideological corners, there’s no shortage of junk in what has become an information dystopia.

Used to be, when trusted sources such as Edward R. Murrow minded the media store, you could be a functioning junkie. But since the internet cracked opened Pandora’s Box, all the useless, pointless, cynical, dissonant, flat-out false flotsam flying around at warp speed can completely shut down a news junkie’s system. Thanks, Al Gore.

There’s no longer an incentive to deliver news that really is balanced so people can make up their minds about an issue when everybody’s mind is already made up. It seems all anybody wants is confirmation, not information, a validation of their pre-conceptions. Those who do seek a sober, credible, accurate, honest, non-partisan, reliable reporting of the facts have nowhere to turn.

But I do have hope. Every time I hear another lie, another distortion, people screaming from the left and right crucifying each other to claim the moral high ground, another gum-flapper unwilling to concede even the slightest point, politicians placing their parties above the people, it’s regrettable – but it does make it easier to stop taking the dope.

Anyway, I’m working on wrenching this monkey off my back. If you’re a media junkie like me, let me encourage you to break that habit, restore your mental health, get back amongst the living. Turn off that TV, switch off that radio, close that newspaper and purge those publications…I mean, all of them but this one.

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