With the amount of time we’re all spending online, you’d think it would be basically inevitable that we’re well-informed about what’s going on in the world. Constant connection, theoretically, should lead to awareness.
And that’s true some of the time. Major events kind of pop up everywhere. The horrific terrorist attacks in Paris in November, for example, appeared on everything from entertainment shows like Extra to The Economist to friends’ grieving Facebook posts. There was reflection and mourning across nearly every platform.
But most current events do not have such a sudden impact across the world. They burn slower or smaller, and require deliberate attention to notice them and follow their progression.
Can you name all of the presidential candidates still running? Could you quickly summarize the situation in Syria and the migration crisis to a friend? Do you know what the Zika virus is and who it’s affecting? Can you articulate how climate change is disproportionately impacting poor people? If you nailed all of these, give yourself a pat on the back.
For the rest of us, it’s not entirely obvious what’s happening in the world and how to stay in-the-know.
Traditional news media–like the nightly news on television or an editorial in a newspaper–do not have the audiences they once commanded. When is the last time you watched or read one of these?
Even a news pillar like the New York Times, which has a successful digital version to go with its long-running print newspaper, seems to be an afterthought to media providers geared for more pop culture-savvy viewers: BuzzFeed, Mashable, and others.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are days when we would rather think about how delicious guacamole onion rings must be, or how adorable baby polar bears are, than the weightier things going on.
And with the surplus of content and creators, there are voices, perspectives, and issues at the forefront that never have before. This is awesome.
The potential to become more aware has absolutely been unlocked by our connectivity. But we have to actually do a little work to get there. Food porn and cute animals can crowd out the more profound stuff.
So how can you stay well-informed? Here are a few suggestions:
(1) Find some hard news sources that don’t bore you to death. You don’t have to watch C-SPAN unless you want to watch C-SPAN. But Facebook and Twitter can’t be anyone’s only entry point to current events.
A few that I follow regularly are NBC News (nationally and in the Los Angeles area), The Guardian, and NPR. You might also consider following a source like The Associated Press on Twitter for significant breaking stories. Make sure you’re getting a good balance of things happening locally in your own city and country, and world news much farther away.
(2) Cultivate a breadth of commentary about current events. You’re looking for sources that go beyond outlining the basic facts (that’s what the things in (1) are for), to discuss their context and meaning. Don’t just gravitate to voices you agree with. Find ones that challenge or even contradict your worldview and beliefs. Choices for these are nearly endless. Some that I look at regularly are: The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, Gawker and Gizmodo, Arts & Letters Daily, and Slate. You’ll find your go-tos in no time.
3. Go Deeper than Perceptions with current events. Question easy narratives and simple labels to see if there’s more going on below the surface. Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. Don’t be a conspiracy theorist. But oftentimes there’s more to the story than what’s being presented to you. After journalists and content creators have done their work, this is your chance to reflect on what you took away from what happened and how that fits into the context of the world as you understand it.
4. When you’ve digested it all yourself, talk about it with other people. Conversation is the way to shared awareness and understanding. When you bring it up, it might be the first time someone else has heard about it. Or they may have a completely different perspective than you that you should patiently listen to and consider. We’re all in this together, and we should all be talking about what’s happening around us and what we’re going to do about it.
Do these seem like things you can do on a regular basis? Do you already do them? Are there other habits you think are important for staying informed week-to-week?
An essential part of finding your way as an adult is knowing what’s going on in the broader society around you. You start to figure out how you fit into our complexly interconnected world, what people and forces are shaping that world today, and what you can do to make a difference. Staying informed is necessary. The world would be a more interesting and better place if we all knew a little more about what’s happening in it. And now you know some good places to start.