Generation Y are having their say over at the Guardian this week. Digital trainee journalists have taken over to discuss life, the universe and everything from their perspective. It looks set to be a great series of articles and I was struck by one particular phrase in the mission statement: "Our gratification is instant, yet we are not satisfied".
I think this phrase applies to us all nowadays, not just young adults. The rush to have it all right now, this moment, is incredibly tiring and not in the least satisfying. It's a bit like eating a massive burger and feeling great for five minutes. Then you want another one because you suddenly feel really crap. We expect everything to be immediately accessible and this breeds more and more urgency. As someone once said, we now have an 'urgency addition'.
The recession put the brakes on high-value instant gratification. Suddenly we couldn't just buy everything we wanted without consequence. This global economic catastrophe changed the way we think about buying stuff. We know we can't necessarily have a new house or car right now; we know it's not sensible to rush and it's best to save rather than spend. But because these avenues of instant pleasure have been blocked off we've move on to an almost insatiable thirst for immediate information and breaking news.
In my view the media has played a huge part in breeding into us this need for speed. They would argue that they're just responding to our behaviours but I'm not so sure. The tragedy of missing airline MH370 is a perfect example. We're now at the point where, because the media roll out almost constant breaking news, we can't stop refreshing Twitter just in case we miss a piece of it; exhausting ourselves and raising our stress levels just in case we slip behind the curve.
Personally, I'm now at the point with much breaking news that I don't believe it is either breaking or, in fact, news. I've reached the point where I just don't want to know anymore. And I don't trust the media to be able to differentiate between more general information on a topic and genuine breaking news.
Breaking news used to be just that: hard news, a big story that had just happened. Today rolling 24/7 TV news shows need their yellow ticker to contain something all the time. They're no longer content to have no ticker when there's nothing to say. The ticker has become a roundup of all stories breaking or not. Where do they go from here? What happens when there is some real breaking news? A big star shape that explodes in front of the newsreader obscuring the entire screen combined with some form of outrageous sound effect?
The need to be first with breaking news has led to some alarming cock-ups over the years. The ones that immediately spring to mind include the Daily Mail who in October 2011 jumped the gun and published a pre-written article based on the premise that Amanda Knox had been found guilty at appeal when she'd actually been found not guilty. In April 2013, both Fox News and CNN announced that Obama's health care reforms had been overturned when they had not. In January 2011 several news outlets reported that US Senator Gabrielle Giffords had died in a mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona. She had, thankfully, survived.
Many news organisations go the other way. They won't publish anything until it's fully confirmed. This is admirable, but this kind of delay for clarification does mean that when you do report the story, after everyone else, it is probably not going to be breaking news. An event that happened five hours ago and is generally known to all is not breaking news, so ditch the ticker.
This rush for attention by competing news organisations means that many of us are switching off - literally and metaphorically. I do sometimes feel like the media has gone completely crazy. They are like a bunch of ferrets fighting in a sack. They are constantly upping the ante at the expense of the truth. Now, everything is breaking news. The tiniest update, the smallest, most insignificant new report is turned into a huge blaze of breaking news.
In the old days there was the nine o'clock news and the 10 o'clock news depending on your channel preference. Supplemented by the radio news and daily newspapers we all seemed perfectly happy with our news intake. No one felt as though they didn't know what was going on in the world. While I know we can never return to this and it wouldn't satisfy us, slow news is making a comeback. People are turning to magazines such as The Week - and even Newsweek is going back into print now.
In-depth coverage is the new breaking news. And long may this resurgence continue.