Let’s Really Talk


Convivium, 31 Jan 2019

Reviving his popular “Small Talk” feature from the print version of Convivium, Editor-in-Chief Father Raymond de Souza bemoans the death of local news, critiques the pornographication of the Super Bowl, and argues for setting down our iPhones to speak face-to-face again.

There was a time, in living memory, when The Kingston Whig-Standard had foreign bureaus. It was a family newspaper with great ambitions and broad horizons. Now it is part of a chain with emaciated budgets and little capacity to cover Kingston, let alone the world abroad.

Last week’s arrest of two Kingston men – one a 16-year-old about whom we have been told nothing, the other a 20-year-old Syrian refugee who arrived in Kingston two years ago – proved the point. The Whig had no capacity to report on the case with its skeletal newsroom. Most of the useful information came from television networks in Ottawa and Toronto who sent reporters to the scene.

One of the consequences of the decline of print media is that, outside of major centres, there is no meaningful local news. The RCMP briefing had very little to share, and all The Whig could really do was reprint statements from various officials. A collection of annotated press releases is not reporting. But it’s the best that we have on offer.

Several readers asked what I thought about the Kingston arrests, and the truth is that I don’t know enough about what is happening in my own city to know what I think. That’s the strange world of journalism in the internet age. I have access to an infinite amount of commentary about Donald Trump or Brexit, but don’t know what is happening in the neighbourhood.

It’s not evident what can be done. Even as we protest or lament, we are part of the same problem. The biggest boys in the business – or make that the grandest Grey Lady – are not immune. The New York Times ran an op-ed column recently entitled “Steve Jobs Never Wanted Us To Use Our iPhones Like This.”

“Mr. Jobs seemed to understand the iPhone as something that would help us with a small number of activities — listening to music, placing calls, generating directions,” writes Cal Newport, a computer scientist who writes on the impact of technology on culture. “He didn’t seek to radically change the rhythm of users’ daily lives. He simply wanted to take experiences we already found important and make them better. The minimalist vision for the iPhone he offered in 2007 is unrecognizable today — and that’s a shame.”

Inveighing against the “constant companion” model of smartphone use, Newport – author of Deep Work and the forthcoming Digital Minimalism – writes that “to succeed with this approach, a useful first step is to remove from your smartphone any apps that make money from your attention. This includes social media, addictive games and newsfeeds that clutter your screen with ‘breaking’ notifications.”

Continue reading at Convivium: https://www.convivium.ca/articles/let-s-really-talk