10 November 2014

Alain de Botton's The News: A Users Manual

I just finished Botton's book The News and was at turns delighted and envious of his ability to stimulate thought with such perfect phrases.  It is the media that shapes our view of the world and Botton helps the reader to question how it does this. 

Here is a quote from early on,
"Societies become modern, the philosopher Hegel suggested, when news replaces religion as our central source of guidance and our touchstone of authority. In the developed economies, the news now occupies a position of power at least equal to that formerly enjoyed by the faiths. Dispatches track the canonical hours with uncanny precision: matins have been transubstantiated into the breakfast bulletin, vespers into the evening report."

And here is a quote, from further in, about Gustave Flaubert's disgust with the news, which had evolved during his lifetime from something published only in reaction to big events to something published daily.
"But now the press had made it very possible for a person to be at once unimaginative, uncreative, mean-minded and extremely well-informed. The modern idiot could routinely know what only geniuses had known in the past, and yet he was still an idiot - a depressing combination of traits that previous ages had never had to worry about. The news had, for Flaubert, armed stupidity and given authority to fools."

We are shaped by the news, whether it comes in the form of Fox or the New York Times or any of a wide variety of interesting publications. It's worth thinking about how that happens and what we might do to gain more autonomy over our view of the world. 

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