Surface meets Surface

Growing up in an obscure far eastern country, I never acquired the taste for television. A neighbour acquired a black and white set, bolstered by an obscenely long aerial, and once a week all the kids in the neighbourhood would visit to watch a fuzzy rendering of Skippy. Later the country established its own network, with a diet of six hours of Islamic prayer, followed by two English language programmes: one half hour comedy show and a forty-five minute detective show, then back to prayer. For the English programmes, imagine Happy Days, followed by Starsky and Hutch. After an initial euphoria I lost interest, and watching television went the same way as stamp collecting.

Later on, I became hungry for news. Each day I would read three or four newspapers a day. I subscribed to a politically balanced selection of current affairs magazines. On my train to work I read the Financial Times and the Guardian, on the way home I skimmed the Times or caught up with the latest New Statesman, Spectator, Private Eye or Economist. I never read the sports section, or cared for celebrity or royal gossip, but looked for articles that extended my knowledge of how countries or parties or people functioned. Gradually though, over a period of two or three years, I came to realise there is little of value to be found in newspapers, and as with television I lost interest. Today, my consumption of news is a brief scroll down the headlines on my Guardian and Al Jazeera English apps on my iPad, and the output of a handful of tweeters and blogs.

Just so hollow and ineffectual, for the most part, is our ordinary conversation. Surface meets surface. When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip. We rarely meet a man who can tell us any news which he has not read in a newspaper, or been told by his neighbor; and, for the most part, the only difference between us and our fellow is that he has seen the newspaper, or been out to tea, and we have not. [Thoreau: Life without Principle]

Otherwise, my reading time is reserved for books, a few magazines, a small number of favourite blogs, and the odd article that someone brings to my attention.

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