Last night – today is a public holiday in WA; Foundation Day – I was at a café with a couple of friends and one was telling me about a chap who had written an article analysing the internet in a manner similar to that which Kierkegaard apparently reviewed the newspapers of his time. I don’t know much about Kierkegaard but it seems he was an existentialist who thought that your actions defined your being. He didn’t like newspapers or cafés because he thought that they just pandered to the dilettante curiosity of the middle classes by allowing them to fill their heads with useless information. Perhaps the information was only relatively useless because it didn’t affect their lives: what it told them was of an event far away, or maybe they just chose to not act. And action, in Kierkegaard’s mind, was what mattered; or so I understand.

That seems to have been this writer’s (not me; the person my friend was telling me about) argument, although he used a dialectical approach, something like Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy, except it wasn’t such a fateful choice the writer was making.

There are problems and ironies, and I have little doubt that the writer was fully aware of them. First, the writer used the mass media to make us aware of this thesis; and second, will awareness of this information move us to act? And if it does, how? Third, who decides what news is important? This issue is probably the key to the whole topic. Different news will impact people differently so it can be problematic to assert “This news is unimportant.” If we in Australia hear about a person in Colorado winning $20 million, do we care? Probably not unless we know them. If our eye catches a headline reading “Man eats fish”, does it matter? Unlikely, unless that person was Jesus after the resurrection. What if Luke had decided not to include that bit of information in his Gospel on the basis that he didn’t think others would think it was unimportant? The argument that Jesus’ post-Calvary appearances were only apparitions or visions – that He was not physically resurrected – would be far more influential. Who knows where the Church might be then? (Not taking into account God’s sovereignty and the inspiration of Scripture, et cetera.)

What if the news never reached Europe of the Islamic rediscovery of classical Greek literature, especially the works of Aristotle, because people didn’t think it worthwhile reporting and repeating? What if Erasmus thought, Who cares what some ancient dead guys thought about the universe? He would never have compiled a Greek New Testament (although he was the first to do so by only a few months), Martin Luther would have been at least hindered in his theological study, and where would we have been then?

In any case, cafés, newspapers and the internet are with us for the present and we can only choose to be selective about what we read and listen to.

copyright Troy Grisgonelle 2008