I was recently chatting with a colleague about finding the perfect news app. We discussed the usual suspects – Apple News, Flipboard, Twitter, LinkedIn Pulse, Quartz, Media Apps, InShorts, etc. There was definitely a lot going on with each of these applications – no dearth of news. However, neither of us felt comfortable with any one solution to provide us with a ‘finite’ number of news updates to help us stay on top of everything we need to know. I emphasize on finite because it’s way too easy to get sucked into the world of news today without realizing the boundaries. But what is that finite number of news items that will save me from awkward ‘you didn’t know about this’ encounters!
How much news is enough for us today?
My first memory of ‘news’ was the eight o’clock bulletin every day on national television. A television set was still far from becoming part of the furniture in most Indian households those days. There used to be only one channel, so the novelty of the medium backed by the obvious lack of choice made this 30-minute bulletin a mandatory part of everybody’s regime. I distinctly recall this bulletin would cover a maximum of 8-10 ‘newsy’ items, including a couple of weather and sports updates. The news was basic, factual, dry and most of all delivered without the opinionated drama of the modern day anchors. Yet, I guess it left most viewers with the satisfaction (rather the illusion of satisfaction) of being on top of everything they needed to know.
My next memory of news was the good, old newspaper printed in the local language. The page layout dominated the amount of news that got captured. The newspaper was pretty lean those days with no more than 8-12 pages. With all the space sharing that was going on with advertisements, tender notices, editorials and classifieds, the newspaper would carry an average of 50 to 70 news items each day. Two decades ago, that was more than enough ammunition for its readers to feel well informed. About half-an-hour well spent with the newspaper and morning tea was a daily routine to make one socially relevant. In fact, “Hey, did you read about blah, blah, blah in today’s paper” was the best ice-breaker of those simpler times.
Depending solely on news from any one media house soon turned into a ridiculous idea, thanks to the media-wars over breaking news and vested corporate interests. The quest for a fairly balanced perspective made people hesitant to trust any one-news source. This gave way to the concept of subscribing to multiple newspapers soon transforming into a new business opportunity – news aggregation. My guestimate is really bad on this one, but I assume taking out all the overlapping elements, people accessed anywhere between 150-200 news items on an average day.
Finally we ‘advanced’ into the digital age and its myriad of apps. Clutter took over every possible medium and left pure confusion behind. The ‘Internet of Need-to-Know Things’ changed everything known to mankind about how and where we consumed news… even more on what we defined as ‘news’! We live in a world today where if you haven’t heard about a blue and black (or was it white and gold) dress, you run the risk of being publicly shamed for living in a cave!
Endless news possibilities
The good and bad thing about news is that it literally has endless possibilities. Every screen/app refresh comes pouring down with hundreds of more updates to catch up on. Clearly, for anybody who is not in the business of selling news, this can be a little intimidating. The threshold of news consumption to reach a satiated feeling of being up-to-date has vanished to the horizon. It seems within reach, but it’s not! Yes, there are limits that can be set on how much you want to know. Yes, there are preferences that can be set on what you want to know. But anybody who has had to leave in the middle of a news feed with unread updates to get back to the real world will know what I am talking about.
Which brings me to my original question… just how much daily dose of news is enough for us today? Is it even possible to arrive at such a number? Will mankind ever go back to that good, old satisfied feeling of being on top of everything they needed to know?
I feel positively about this. Having worked for the biggest and smallest technology brands has taught me to believe in the power of technology. I realize every individual is different and hence the answer would be not the same for all. However, with the pace at which data analytics is progressing, it is not difficult to define the environment for every individual with utmost clarity. If LinkedIn can push notifications on profiles of people I am supposed to meet (based on my calendar sync up)… if Facebook can offer to tell me what people are saying about a place the second I enter it (based on my location tracking)… if Google Now can instruct me to get up and leave right now to avoid being late for my next meeting (based on my calendar sync and real time commute updates)… we couldn’t be that far from the perfect news app that tells us all that we need to know and more importantly just what we need to know to stay relevant! With that thought and hope, let me get back to the 208 new stories that I have to catch up on!