On April 18, 1930, the BBC radio newscaster opened his broadcast with the following line: “There is no news.” And then piano music played for 15 minutes.
Can you even imagine?
I learned about this from the most recent episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Everything is Alive (check out a previous post I wrote about it). This week, the interview subject was a newspaper named Jennifer, and, naturally, much of the conversation was about the news cycle. I was amazed when it mentioned the day without news.
Such an occurrence raises the question: What makes something newsworthy? In our attention economy, the most profitable thing even the most reputable news sources can do is keep our eyes and ears attuned to their pages and feeds. So they have to keep providing content. “There is no news” is inconceivable nowadays, and there will be news, whether its stories are newsworthy or not.
Something must have happened on April 18, 1930. There were approximately two billion humans on earth that year, not to mention all the other beings on the planet, going about their business. But that is not the stuff that makes news. In fact, a quick Wikipedia search reveals that “There is no news” was the only notable thing to happen that day––at least according to Wikipedia contributors.
And yet, such a pronouncement (followed by 15 minutes of peaceful music), is an enticing fantasy today.
How fortunate that I write this on Friday afternoon, in between cutting up a pineapple and making baked ziti with tempeh and zucchini for Shabbat. On Shabbat, I do my best to stay away from anything that asks for my attention more than I want to give it, which includes things like social media and news sites. But the strictures of my job (and my daily habits) make putting my phone down entirely quite a challenge. Inevitably, and despite my intentions not to, I check Facebook or the New York Times.
It’s powerful to stay away from this sort of media for a time. I recall my summers at camp, when I fell into the “camp bubble.” During those summers, even as a staff person when I had my phone and computer access, I rarely went online or spoke to anyone from the outside. It changed my focus, making me much more aware of those in my immediate vicinity and of the experiences we created together.
Maybe this week is the week to redouble my commitment to staying off this sort of technology for 24 hours. At least once a week, if I really try, I could have a day with no news.
I think this is more than a wish to be personally refreshed. When I think about the things that typically interrupt my efforts to stay off my phone or computer (other than my own habits), I realize they are most often incidents of suffering. Either eleven people die at the hands of a terrorist on Shabbat morning, or a member of the congregation calls because a loved one has just passed away. The sad and urgent events far outnumber the joyful. So a day without news also means a day without anything tragically news making.
So may it be a day with no news––a Shabbat shalom for all.