We live in an information-driven society. We crave information. It’s our currency in today’s digital world. If you don’t have it, you’re behind.
It’s why we get New York Times breaking news alerts sent directly to our phones or why we continuously scroll through our Twitter account. We don’t want to risk being the only person in the room who doesn’t know the latest breaking news story whether it be the death of Osama bin Laden or the divorce of Kim Kardashian. And in the news world, breaking the story is more important than ever.
But our craving, our often insatiable need for information can be detrimental.
Let’s look at last night’s events surrounding former Penn State coach Joe Paterno’s health. The legendary coach suffered from lung cancer and was in serious condition at the hospital. Every major news site – from ESPN to the New York Times to CBS – had a portion of their homepage dedicated to JoePa’s health. And, then it happened.
Onward State, PSU’s student website, reported that NCAA’s all-time most-winningest coach passed away. CBS Sports soon followed suite, tweeting to their 53,000+ followers that he had died. Except that he hadn’t.
I’ll be honest – I was roaming Twitter last night and began to see “#RIPjoepa” tweets; immediately, I believed that he had passed away. (I even shot off a quick “Wow, #RIPjoepa” tweet myself.) I mean, news doesn’t break, it tweets, right? And if CBS Sports, a traditionally respectable journalistic organization, tweeted it, it had to be true. Except that it wasn’t.
Immediately, my fiancé went to ESPN.com, where the ticker continued to say that JoePa was in “serious condition.” He claimed that JVP hadn’t passed away yet or else ESPN would have the story. I showed him the constant influx of tweets to try to prove my point. I was wrong.
- JoePa’s son, Scott, tweets to address rumors.
I want to pause here to say that I’m not trying to be insensitive – I completely recognize that this is a legendary man’s death that we’re talking about. I’m a Pennsylvania girl myself and respect all that he has done for the game of football, Penn State, and students in general. My point here is not to be disrespectful or insensitive at all, but rather show how our impatience for information can make us be just that – disrespectful and insensitive.
Is our need to be first, to produce content, to garner attention damaging our reputation and our relationships? Are news organizations so desperate to stay afloat that they’ll forgo traditional journalistic standards to be first? When is enough enough?
I don’t have the answers to these questions but have recently examined my own information-driven life. Before I even get out of bed in the morning, I flip through my email on my phone. Before I go to work or to class, I’ve already scoured my breaking news alerts, spent (too much) time on Twitter, and checked all of my social networks – all while having CNN American Morning on in the background. And, that’s all before 10 a.m.
How can we satisfy our need for information without allowing us to make quick, irrational decisions? How do we control our social networks before we allow them to control us?
(And R.I.P. Joe. You will be missed.)