I used to get the news from a combination of reading the broadsheets, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian, listening to ABC radio and watching the 7pm ABC television news. With my eyesight now making reading papers too difficult (I maintain, without objective evidence, that the font has become smaller, and the print more faint) I’ve abandoned them. I’ve become impatient with TV news programs – too slick, too shallow too … self-regarding.
So I’ve been left with the ABC radio news, at least three bulletins, and ‘The World Today’ at midday. This used to serve me pretty well, so that when Jean got back in the afternoon from her various tasks and endeavours, knowing that she only used the papers for the cryptic crosswords and didn’t listen to the radio, I could supply her, over a drink as stay-at-home husbands do, with some news: ‘So-and-so has resigned; So-and-so has died; There’s been another shooting massacre in the US …’
No longer. Jean uses Twitter and Facebook and gets the news on her phone while she’s out and about, well before me. My recent announcements that Anne Summers was to interview Julia Gillard and that Lance Franklin was considering a nine-year $10 million offer from the Sydney Swans was old news to her by the time she arrived home. ‘In future I’ll wait for you to give me the latest,’ I said, chagrined.
It’s a looming problem for those not adept at accessing and using the social media. My eyesight provides me with an excuse, but I am increasingly uncomfortable at being closed off from this vibrant world of communication. I have a cranky impulse to dismiss it as trivia, but when Jean comes out with some witty, biting political satire she’s picked up or some just-breaking news of great interest, I know that I’m wrong.
I sense that this is a new kind of grass-roots communication, released from censorship, relevant, often subtle or clever and originally expressed, and capable, at its best, of great good. Barack Obama’s success in the 2008 election can be partly attributed to his skilful use of social media. But the technology can also be a force for evil, as with bullying or vilification on Twitter and Facebook.
In small ways I believe I have fought the good fight, for egalitarian values and the social contract, in the old way – through journalism, petitions, books, letters to the editor. Sadly, as far as the new forms are concerned, I am now on the sidelines, off the pace. Or am I just being lazy?