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Feb. 23rd, 2011 | 06:45 pm

we had the TV on at work yesterday and today.

Actually, we always do (no sound). If there's "significant" sport on, we play that. Otherwise, it usually shows some Australian business show. Business shows are odd things to look at with no sound: along the bottom of the screen is a stock ticker. Just above that is another stock ticker (moving at a different speed). On the top of the screen, a currency ticker. Sometimes they have a different currency ticker inset on the right. So the talking head is surrounded by information, and the thought that goes through my head: How many people in the world (a) need up-to-the-minute information on stock prices, and (b) rely on TV shows to give them this information?

I suspect the answer is "zero". So in truth, the talking head is surrounded by noise.

I posted once before on Nassim Nicholas Taleb and his book _Fooled By Randomness_. He has an interesting view of news:
The problem with information is not that it is diverting and generally useless, but that it is toxic. [...] If there is anything better than noise in the mass of "urgent" news pounding us, it would be like a needle in a haystack. People do not realize that the media is paid to get your attention. For a journalist, silence rarely surpasses any word.

The take-home message is this: If news is not relevant or important enough to cause you to immediately change your plans or behaviour, then the news is nothing more than entertainment.

So yesterday I heard of the big earthquake. Did it affect my job, or my ability to do it? Well ... no. Not at all. Will it affect what I choose to do with my life in the future? It could do. There is basically one useful option available to me if I want to help: donate money. (I could offer accommodation to people stranded in Wellington also) Let's see what information I need to inform my decision on whether to make a donation:
  1. There was a big earthquake in Christchurch with widespread damage and fatalities.

Is it useful for me to know that the Cathedral is half-collapsed? That people may be stuck in buildings? That a hotel is on the brink of collapse? Considering I haven't acted on that information, the answer is clearly "no".

I have a friend who looks like being professionally involved in the aftermath. Is he usefully informed by TV coverage? I doubt it — he won't be choosing which buildings to examine based on what he saw on TV3. If you have friends or family in Christchurch, does the TV tell you what happened to them? Again, no (unless by extreme fluke they are interviewed).

Taleb's philosophy is that news is just entertainment — so if you want to be entertained, you may as well choose good entertainment. So, with that thought in mind, I shall return to the re-play of _Dragon Age_ that I started a week ago. I'm sure in a month or so the rumours and speculation will have died down and we'll have a clearer picture of what happened. I can tune in then.

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Comments {4}

Mike McGavin

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from: izogi
date: Feb. 24th, 2011 10:23 pm (UTC)
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I'm not sure -- even if I don't do anything as a consequence of knowing that the cathedral's collapsed, I still want to hear about it because until I do, I don't know if it'll influence me. Hearing about it again and again is less necessary.

For me at least, it's entertainment if it's the same information being repeated, or if there aren't long-lasting implications. eg. Sports news is almost never anything but entertainment as far as I'm concerned. Having clichés quoted from players with a camera thrust in their face 2 days before anything's happened in a match that few people will care about a week afterwards does little more than to entertain.

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repton_infinity

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from: repton_infinity
date: Feb. 24th, 2011 11:29 pm (UTC)
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even if I don't do anything as a consequence of knowing that the cathedral's collapsed, I still want to hear about it because until I do, I don't know if it'll influence me.

That's a fair point.

But half-hourly updates on the latest death toll figures?

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Mike McGavin

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from: izogi
date: Feb. 25th, 2011 12:22 am (UTC)
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Yes I agree with you completely.

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wyldcard

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from: wyldcard
date: Feb. 27th, 2011 09:25 pm (UTC)
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Yeah man. After I knew all my family was okay my interest in following news reports diminished significantly. I know it's bad down there. I've been avoiding TV1 & TV3 since then.

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