We’re all born desperate to learn – to walk, to speak, to understand why things are the way they are and to question how we can do things better.
But by adulthood, that urge to learn for the sake of learning becomes less urgent, and is satisfied less and less often. If we’re lucky we will visit a museum, catch a documentary or even read a book that teaches us something now and then, but for many people these are rare luxuries that we don’t often have time for. We do, as Bill Maher says, need to fall in love with knowledge again. But how do we have time to?
It used to be that the time-starved would buy newspapers and magazines to enjoy well-researched and interesting facts. For the price of a cup of coffee and a few minutes, we could feed that craving we all have for more knowledge. We enjoyed discussing with friends the reports of new archaeological finds and how the experts discovered them. We loved imagining ourselves in a jungle somewhere, discovering exotic animals via the writer’s vivid descriptions of them. We admired exposés such as Heather Brooke‘s uncovering of the MPs expenses dishonesty (which handily had the result of saving the public purse thousands of pounds and binning the most corrupt politicians – truly holding power to account, as journalism should).
But the fashion for printed newspapers and magazines is waning, and the rise of free online news and shorter attention spans seems unstoppable. This change isn’t necessarily bad – it’s just a reflection of our busy lifestyles, going hand-in-hand with catchup TV and Tinder – but the way that publishers have reacted to it has been confused and largely unsuccessful. They’ve collectively failed to make money from their popular web content, and so have missed out on the funding they need to invest in quality journalism.
In this climate of breaking news and catchy headlines, the rise in ‘fake news’ doesn’t surprise me, but it does deeply sadden me. I’m not usually one for jabbering on about “the good old days” but if we want fact checking and decent writing to stay alive, we need to invest in knowledge by buying a good old-fashioned newspaper or magazine or by financially supporting their website.