I missed the news today, oh boy

by Toby Manhire / 19 March, 2015
Could it be no news is the good news we’d all love to tune in to?

•  By his own admission, Jesse Armstrong is a heavy user. And so it’s quite a challenge to go cold turkey, to survive a month without any news. Despite the warnings of his daughter – “what if they pass a new law and you get arrested for something you don’t know about?” – Armstrong took a pledge: be it print, online, radio or TV, no news. Almost immediately, he finds newslessness hard going. “I am full of curiosity, fear of missing out … I click hopefully at things that feel like news. Anything interesting happening on National Rail live departures today?”

Armstrong, a writer on Peep Show and The Thick of It, nevertheless finds the exercise liberating – especially ditching Twitter, “the Hamster wheel, the Outrage-e-sizer”. It all leaves him reflecting on the way news operates in his own life. Obviously, there is the “informed citizenry thing”, but he’s beyond having his mind changed. “I have built a confirmation bias so strongly into my own fabric that it’s hard to imagine a fact that could wonk me,” writes Armstrong. “At some level, the news has become a vast apparatus for continually proving me right in my pre-existing prejudices about the world.”

•  Wikipedia is suing the NSA. Mass surveillance by the US spy agency threatens a “fundamental pillar of democracy … the free exchange of know­ledge and ideas”, write the online encyclopedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales, and Lila Tretikov, executive director of its parent Wikimedia Foundation, in a New York Times op-ed. Volunteer users and editors, many of whom “work on controversial issues or live in countries with repressive governments”, rely on anonymity to research and communicate, they say.

In tandem with the America Civil Liberties Union, Wikimedia will argue that the NSA has breached the US constitution and its own authority under law, resulting in a chilling effect on all users. “It stifles freedom of expression and the free exchange of knowledge that Wikimedia was designed to enable … Privacy is an essential right. It makes freedom of expression possible, and sustains freedom of inquiry and association. It empowers us to read, write and communicate in confidence, without fear of persecution. Knowledge flourishes where privacy is protected.”

•  In pockets of central and east London, handwritten notices have been appearing, pinned to trees. “Missing: Have you seen this monster?” they implore, and include a sketch of aforesaid monster and an email address for information. The appeal has generated quite a response, writes James McMahon, “owner” of the three-eyed monster (Clive), on Facebook. “One guy in China is basically trying to extort money from me for the monster’s safe return, a couple of girls from Holborn have made their own Clive Monsters out of felt and are sending me photos of them … and there’s even a guy who sent me an email of himself dressed as a monster. I thought that one was a bit too much, in truth.”

Why did McMahon do it? Because “despite all the shit in the world … people want magic”, he writes. And, he tells Buzzfeed, “My last project was writing notes saying things like ‘ignore the voices, they mean you harm’ and hiding them in hotel rooms under mattresses and whatnot on hotel chain headed notepaper, but a hotel chain asked me to stop doing that, so I started doing the Missing Monster thing.”

•  Over in the northwest of London, the Abbey Road pedestrian crossing, as famously depicted on the 1969 Beatles album, has long been a place of pilgrimage for fans. In 2010, English Heritage even granted the crossing listed-building status.

Not everyone is impressed, however. Tourist reviews from the website Tripadvisor, where Abbey Road is ranked 211th of 2415 “things to do in London”, have been sardonically circulated online recently. Some examples: “It really is just a zebra crossing.” “Not much happening just a normal road.” “Could be a pedestrian crossing anywhere really.” “Not much to do.” And: “Traffic ruined it.”

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