News Moves Faster Than We Do

Even The Flash has trouble keeping up the news.

You can’t keep up with the news anymore.

But don’t be alarmed because nobody else can either.

Once upon a time news got delivered on your doorstep in a static format.  It was there for you to read – at your leisure – within the next 24 hours.  Read it and you’d be up to date.  Even with the advent of TV and radio – news came in snippets.  6 p.m. for local news.  7 p.m. for world news.  Radio news – usually headlines – delivered in hourly updates.

But news now moves in a constant stream that is updated each and every second.  Tweets fly by.  RSS feeds update constantly.  Online news is published almost as soon as it is written.  Perceptions and analysis of events can alter several  times before the event is even over.

And worse yet because much of our news is coming to us via social networks it gets mixed in with personal news, family and friend updates and gossip.  News about Cairo gets fed into your stream with the vacation photographs from your parents and your friends chatting away about the Super Bowl halftime show.

This is why the trivial often gets elevated and the important gets mistaken as the trivial.

The resulting flow of ALL of the this information and news has us feeling like we’re paddling a canoe up a waterfall.  Is it any wonder that we’re exhausted, confused and often feel like we don’t have a handle on what is going on around us?

Lost in this raging river of news is context.  Get to a story late and there’s a struggle to put it in perspective and a difficulty to get an overview.  News outlets and bloggers are too busy providing us with snippets, details and updates to provide the broader narrative of exactly what is going on.  This is also because journalists no longer have enough time to provide this context – because they are reporting in real time.

To make matters even more confusing, Facebook and Twitter updates generally read like partial conversations – or at least one-sided.  Often we don’t understand the full story – or the context – of the status update.  Information is now a mix of opinion, journalism, speculation and parody we have a difficult time distinguishing fact from fiction.

Never has so much information and news been at our fingertips and yet so difficult to process and use.  As a result, this churn of information has changed the way we consume and interact with news.

Many people don’t follow the news in traditional ways anymore.  Instead of trying to navigate the churn, they ride tributaries instead.  They follow specific news events or focus on specific topics.  Many others jump into the news river for a few days and then retreat from it.  Others still minimize the flow by following only one or two sources of news.

Here’s how I manage it.  I have my iGoogle page set on tabs: social media, public relations, national news, international news, local/regional and sports.  Each tab is loaded with RSS feeds from my trusted sources (less than a dozen each page) with a mix of bloggers and news sources.  On Twitter, I have groups in columns with many of the same headers, but more focused on work topics: social media and public relations.  This is my flow of news sources.  I dip in and out depending on the topics and my interest in it.

Facebook I use mostly to keep in touch with friends, colleagues and co-workers.

I rely on NPR (radio during my commute) and the New York Times (iPhone app) to keep me tuned to the broader aspects of the news.  I also regularly read Newsweek Online, Slate and the Boston Globe.

How do you manage your news consumption?  Do find it more difficult to follow the news?


Artwork of The Flash via DC Comics

4 Responses to “News Moves Faster Than We Do”

  1. 1) I think it is solid that you used an image of The Flash.
    2) I think that there is that feeling, but only of a certain section of the population. There is a demographic that is increasingly used to ‘content on my terms’, so the thought of “keeping up” is irrelevant. Or will increasingly become so.
    3) I see apps like Instapaper and Flipbook as a reaction to the constant stream, a way to bring a little bit more of the leisurely pace into the consumption of content.

    As for my own personal habits: Google Reeder for RSS feeds (iPad and computer); NYTimes and USA Today on iPad at night; NPR and Today Show in the morning; Twitter and Facebook during the day.

    Hell. Now I’m tired.

  2. Hi Alan:
    I haven’t been that impressed with Instapaper – maybe I’ll have to revisit.

    I don’t disagree with the demographic used to “content on my terms,” but that is a relatively new occurrence. It was harder to filter when news came in bulk through newspapers and TV. You got exposed to more by accident in those formats. Now it is much easier to filter out content and news you don’t want or view as unnecessary.

    As for The Flash. Well, he rocks.

  3. My consumption habit is similar and evolving. Email (w/alerts), rss reader of selected topics, Google News, and the twin firehoses Twitter and Facebook. I found this post via a RT. I publish a (very)local news service and find that (for local purposes) Facebook is increasingly becoming the source and medium of highest traction, particularly as more and more local businesses and orgs use “pages”. My FB news feed is starting to look like my Twitter timeline.

  4. Hi Jim:
    Good point about Facebook, but I still find it too much of mix between personal and professional. Probably because of the way I use it – which is ill-defined. I’ve actually stopped with Google Alerts for one reason – I’ve lost control of my inbox and email is becoming a black hole for me. I’m trying to decrease emails… Thanks for the comment.

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