I’d like to announce a world debut of a fantastic new idea which I myself just invented. Grip your seats, curl your toes, and prepare yourselves for: Throwback Thursday!
My friends tell me that Throwback Thursday, or #TBT to the cool kids, is already a “thing” in social media, where people post old photographs of themselves on the internet. The existence of this “original” Throwback Thursday could cause controversy for my own. But I’m not worried in the slightest. Just like Newton and that other guy who “invented” calculus, or Darwin and that other guy who “invented” evolution, history remembers the man with the better hair. Judging by my third-grade portrait with the quasi-mullet, I’m a shoo-in.
Besides, my #TBT tackles issues of more substance than embarrassing haircuts and ghastly clothes. To do so, it throws way far back. Back to when milk came in glass bottles and Coke’s name revealed its secret ingredient. Even further, to when Saturday Night Live was actually funny and the biggest threat to civilization was razor blades in our Halloween candy.
I throw us back to when the national news actually contained things like journalism. Investigative reporting. Context. You know… news.
Thank the presses for serious and reliable local insights, like those in your hand right now. But I don’t even know what’s going on in the world at large anymore, because I can’t read or watch the news. It’s not that I’m illiterate or blind. It’s that the news doesn’t exist!
All we get anymore are people’s opinions. We have pundits and experts and politicians, each one talking, writing, tweeting, posting, pinning, tumbling, threading, circling, and hashing, with very little actual reporting. National news outlets elicit emotions and reactions, rather than bothering with silly things like “facts.”
Even public radio has degraded its standards of journalism. In most reports I hear, the hard-hitting questions ride the pine, while soft questions try to bunt their way to first. (The rare Hall-of-Famer still swings for the fences. I heart you, Steve Inskeep! Call me?)
In these times of everyone-has-an-opinion-so-why-not-broadcast-it, I’m as much an expert as anyone else. So my entirely valid diagnosis of the situation is that our society has more airspace and cyberspace to fill than ever before, but our attention spans are truncated by cat pictures.
Seriously. The news must compete with that video your aunt posted of a cat with cancer, and if you don’t share that video with all your friends in the next fifteen minutes, then your wishes won’t come true and Bill Gates will eat a starving child! (Yes, I’m sorry to say, Facebook has become one big chain email from the nineties. Talk about throwbacks.)
Syrian conflicts and fatal spills of ethylene dibromide don’t stand a Darwinian chance on the newsfeed. I mean, even I zoned out by the end of the word “Syrian,” and I was writing the blasted sentence.
Instead of keeping the news succinct and digestable for us poor attention-deficient saps, news outlets opt to seize our attention with hyperbolic shenanigans that would shame a snake oil salesman. The news no longer matters because you wish to be an informed member of society. It matters only because Benghazi must boycott the Olympics or else Bill Gates will replace North Korea’s launch software with Windows and WE WILL ALL DIE AND/OR BECOME GAY!
With all this time and space to fill with opinions, seems to me that no one bothers to fact-check such claims. (For starters, any fool on Google would realize that it’s Steve Jobs’ zombie corpse infecting North Korea’s launch software with iTunes 11.)
Besides, sharpening any idea to its most salient points is tough and time-consuming, and apparently no one has time to hone ideas anymore. Mark Twain once apologized that he didn’t have time to write a short letter, so he wrote a long one instead. What would he think of all these tweets ejaculated into the ether without even a proofread?
Spouting off in 140 characters doesn’t make writing succinct; it makes it short. I know; I’ve tried tweeting to condense my writing. Turns out, it’s not the size of what I say that matters, but how well I say it. (So the ladies tell me.)
That’s why my #TBT is all about giving our thoughts and words the time to crystallize. I gaze through my Throwback Telescope, and I spy an ancient time when brevity truly was the soul of wit.
I spy elementary school, when we first learned how to write haikus.
Haikus, you’ll remember, are three-line poems with five syllables, seven, and five again. They distill a whole crop of ideas into a single flask of the finest thought-whiskey. No room for hyperbole here!
Let’s try to write a haiku in the style of modern-day news shows, and see how it goes:
What global warming?
The government reads your brain!
Bill Nye is a quack.
Well… shee-it. These opinions stand naked without their white noise. They beg to be examined, to be questioned. They stimulate—gasp!—actual critical thoughts.
And the poem accomplished all that faster than posting a #TBT photo.
Crafting our words works as an automatic filter. When I have to distill my thoughts by actually thinking about them, I weigh every word and discard the scraps. Goodness knows I need some way to leash my tongue and get to the effing point already.
And that point is, you can’t have a mullet if you let every hair grow wild. You have to trim back the business, so you can unleash the party.
Let us celebrate sharper, stronger thoughts! I toast this superior version of Throwback Thursday with one more haiku:
Here’s to brevity!
May my editor stop me
when I get long-win
This piece originally appeared on the Durango Telegraph. (Link to main page, not to article.)
(Featured photo copyright some member of my family, circa 1992.)