The News Pace Quickens; Attention Shortens
One of the least noticed phenomena of the 21st century is the pace of life now quickening. It is reflected in news cycles that can move to new stories in less than 24 hours and forget about stories in 48 hours. It is a remarkable testament to Kobe Bryant’s impact that, almost a week removed from his untimely death, people are still talking about him.
In fact, as the pace of life and the news cycle has accelerated, our attention spans have shortened. We are on to the next thing more quickly than we used to be. The acceleration seems unlikely to slow. Life becomes a blur. We just hit the new year, and already we are on to the new month. An extra day in February will not slow things down. It will give us just one more day to forget.
In January of 2019, the American government shut down over a dispute related to immigration and the border wall. President Donald Trump kept it closed until a deal was cut that did nothing to improve the border situation. The same month, the United States recognized Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s lawful president.
In March, New Zealand suffered a mass shooting. There were several in the United States over the past year. In April, the world watched Notre Dame cathedral burn down.
In June, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez accused Trump of operating concentration camps along the American border. In July, American naval forces shot down an Iranian drone in the Persian Gulf. Concurrently, a massive wave of immigrants walked north through Central America, flooding the American border. An antifa protestor tried to firebomb an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility. Security shot him.
By August, immigration protestors had showed up at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home in Kentucky to protest. Some chanted that they wanted to stab him.
Around the same time, the media became fixated on fires in Brazil, and Greta Thunberg showed up in New York City via an emissions-free yacht. In September, a Saudi oil refinery came under attack from Yemeni rebels.
Brexit failed to happen, and then the Tories had a landslide victory and Brexit was back on. The United States bailed on Syria. Australia began to burn. Journalists blamed climate change until Australian police took action against almost 200 people — not named Climate Change — for bushfire-related offenses. During all of this, the President of the United States stopped an appropriation meant to help Ukraine and had a phone call with Ukraine’s President.
At the end of the year, the President authorized the killing of Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani. January began with an Iranian response that proved to be functionally impotent. Then the impeachment trial started.
Impeachment will soon be over — and may be over by the time you are reading this. President Trump will be on the ballot in November. Democrats will have their nominee. We will wade through the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary, South Carolina’s primary and Super Tuesday. We will go through two political conventions. There will be a presidential debate or two. The world will move on.
It would be unsurprising if people go to the polls in November completely forgetting impeachment was ever something that happened. Memories and attention spans are short. The news cycle is fast paced. In a few weeks, we will be talking about the coronavirus for longer and in greater depth than we talked about impeachment.
Through it all, we will send more soldiers to Afghanistan, and we will forget they are there. More of them will die, and maybe a few of us will hear the news stories reporting it. Our soldiers have become hostage to a news cycle that forgets them. We will move on from all these things, distracted and with limited attention.
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