Watching Brett Kavanaugh’s “job interview” last week, I had flashbacks to the 1991 hearings between Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas. I was a teenager at the time, but I remember talking about it in school, discussing it with friends, and watching clips of the hearing together. I definitely wasn’t one of those teenagers that read the newspaper, so I primarily learned about the news from other people.
My experience watching the Kavanaugh-Ford hearing couldn’t have been more different. I was working from home last Thursday and watched the hearings alone on my TV. Every break in the hearing flashed immediately to a panel of analysts discussing a play-by-play account of what was happening, how the outcome was looking, and the reactions of people. If my phone hadn’t been on silent, I’m sure it would have been vibrating and pinging frequently with updates and notifications from news feed, posts, and updates. If I had checked Twitter during the hearing, it would have been updating non-stop with commentary and insights, offering a play-by-play account, even if I hadn’t been watching it live.
By the time the hearing finished, my NY Times app was flooded with headlines of articles, op-ed pieces, analysis, updates, and thousands of comments from readers. Many radio and TV channels were offering distilled summaries. Entire news programs were dedicated to discuss the hearing in minute detail. Two news podcasts I enjoy both had shows dedicated to the hearings.
Every major news story has now become like a 3-ring circus. While the main event is going on, the side rings feature social media feeds or commentaries and analysis. The most striking thing is these things happen simultaneously. There’s no time to digest and reflect on something, or to discuss it with others before the relentless torrent of news and analysis start flooding the media streams, each one with its distinctive spin and interpretation. It’s distracting. And we’re naturally influenced by which news streams we choose to read, watch, or listen to for updates and analysis.
It’s normal to have media streams dedicated to and focused on big stories like the Ford-Kavanaugh hearing. What I increasingly fail to notice in today’s media circus is the pace at which news is delivered, how relentless the updates can be, and how little time we have to process any of it. It feels normal to me now.