I’ve been thinking about news lately. Not “the news,” so much as news: what we regard as news, and why.
We receive information All Day. It informs the substance of our thinking. I wake in the morning. I hear Bill breathing. I am informed: Bill is here, Bill is alive. All is well with the world.
The information continues. I turn on the light: the electricity works. I turn on the shower: the water works. I test the water: the water heater works. If one of these things didn’t work then, well, that might be a kind of news. I would wake Bill with this news: the electricity isn’t working, neither is the water.
That might be a bad day.
But more than this kind of thing informs us. Little exchanges at work: a friendly smile from someone; a response to a question: yes, I did, indeed, have a good weekend. This is information. The smallest details of our day inform us: at two-o’clock in April, the light falls in this way across this parking lot; Jay, who sits in the front row, must needs always be playing with something, whether it be a pen cap, a shredded bit of eraser, or the spiral binding of his notebook. And thus I am informed about the atmosphere of my day– the light, the student. Information. That’s all.
Maybe one of the facts about information is that, by and large, we tend not to notice it, or not to attend to it, anyway. Information like this describes the typical, the status quo. Its impact is subconscious, feeding unevaluated assumptions about the way we live.
And that’s what makes it different from news: News Changes Things.
I had news the other day: my boss is leaving. He has found a job in Boston, and this job and the move he and his family are making are good for them in so many ways– personally, professionally. It’s hard to be sad about it, really. I am, in fact, glad for him.
But this news is So Unlike information– information that settles like the dust on my dresser: unnoticed, disregarded and assumed. No. This news is News Indeed. It came as a kind of shock, as though the chair I had planned to sit down on was suddenly, quietly, pulled away. And this despite the fact that John told us gently. He has, in fact, a very pleasant voice, and he told us in a very gentle way. But even so, there it was: the bald, undeniable, solid news. He is going away, and Someone Else, presumably, will replace him.
News requires a reordering. If it’s the electricity that’s out, then you must, to some extent, reorder your day around it’s being turned back on. But with news like John’s news, the reordering is done in a kind of full-on darkness. There are Unknowns now. And though you try to feel your way in the dark, the places where you used to rest your hands are gone or, at the very least, Awfully Hard To Find.
All Shall Be Well, I am sure of it. God works all things together for good, you know. But still, there is much about this news that I Just Don’t Like.
I received the results of a medical test in the mail the other day. A typical, everyday, no-big-deal sort of test. And the results: negative. Just what we expected, what is healthy, what we assumed. We won’t mention it to the children, won’t call our parents, our siblings. It was information, not news, absorbed into the dailiness of our lives without– almost– a second thought.
But I told Bill we should stop for a minute and be grateful, because there might come a day when that same test result brings news instead of information, and suddenly we would be reordering our lives around something unsettling, fearsome, and sad.
Information isn’t newsworthy. It isn’t shocking or fascinating; it doesn’t hold our attention. But here is the information I have right now: it is raining, and the boys are at the homes of friends for the afternoon. Bill is on an errand at Home Depot. And Emma Grace and her friend Olivia have donned bathing suits and are playing outside in the rain. I can’t see them playing, but their voices come through the door now and then: happy shouts, laughter, the occasional squeal.
And I hear them at play, and I am grateful.