I’ve intently followed the US election since before the first primary was held back in February. Each day I’ll listen to podcasts, read various news sites, watch talk shows, and banter with peers. This week I found myself asking the question, “why?”
It’s not unusual for me to be engaged by current affairs, particularly politics, but this isn’t an election that means much to me personally. Even if you exclude the fact that POTUS doesn’t lead Australia, the President isn’t particularly powerful (despite popular belief). Sure, they hold great strength as Commander-in-chief and could drag us into war, but is that really my interest?
We tell ourselves that we follow the news so we can be informed about “the issues”. Facts create context that we aggregate when deciding our opinion or casting our vote — but what is “fact”?
Thanks to the rise and maturing of the internet, we are always just a click away from another article. Two-thirds of users read news on Facebook and the algorithm they employ is designed to keep you there for just another 10 minutes. One of the ways it does this is to profile you and play to your existing biases. Oh, you like cat videos‽ Here’s 10 more. You believe Clinton is a lying destroyer of lives (#emaillivesmatter)‽ Let me present you with the latest alt-right piece from Breitbart. We’re not learning anything from the news, we’re confirming what we already believe and being entertained — news is the original soap opera.
Apart from the entertainment value, I do think there is also a utilitarian aspect for many of us. It’s pretty common for people to sit around and chat about the topics of the day. Not wanting to be perceived to be stupid — or in wanting to be perceived to be smart — everyone has an opinion on everything. I related to this quite strongly; back when I didn’t keep up, I would have feeling of inadequacy that manifested as concern that I wasn’t smart enough. Could it be that my current engagement is an overcorrection, an irrational cry to be seen as more than I am? And don’t think the irony of posing that question on a public post is lost on me. Does my self-awareness make this process any less self-serving? Probably not but it makes me feel a little better and, really, isn’t that what this is all about? We enjoy carrying-on about the poor state of journalism and politics nearly as much as we enjoyed reading about Brangelina or how Trump s̶n̶o̶r̶t̶s̶ ̶c̶o̶k̶e̶ had a bad mic.
So, where is this all going? Nowhere really — I’m all out of political podcasts after everyone raced to discuss “the tape” and needed something to make me feel smart while I sipped on a ¾-full flat white.