By Joern Fischer
With so much room for improvement in today’s world, I often feel I should be up to speed with current affairs. To contribute useful things to the world, you need to know what’s going on. And so keeping up to date with the daily news seems really important.
But then I watch the news (or listen to it, or read it), and usually there’s nothing new at all. Or rather, it’s just factoids that change on a daily basis. The important things tend to change much more slowly (if at all), and they typically don’t get reported on in the news. (The video below is different, by the way — it’s not CNN, but CNNNN, an Australian parody of CNN…)
If you’re the kind of person who gets frustrated by watching daily news, perhaps you’ll find Resilience Thinking an interesting way to look at this. According to resilience scholars, systems have “fast variables” (things that change rapidly, somewhat frequently, and can cause great disturbance in the process), and systems have “slow variables” (things that don’t change very fast at all but underpin some of the big patterns and trends). The slow variables are really important drivers of sustainability problems. They might be things like human population growth, climate change, global injustices stemming back from colonial times, dietary choices as people get wealthier. These kinds of variables are critically important to understand, and address, sustainability problems.
But the daily news focuses almost exclusively on fast variables. The weather, the latest events, the stock market. I’d go even further though: if people are informed by the news, then there will be a feedback effects back to politics — watching the news means you end up thinking that lots of these fast variables are important; thereby putting implicit pressure on politicians to think even more in terms of immediate impacts. Yet again, our culture of speed stops us from thinking about underlying issues — even though those are the issues we should be dealing with to create lasting changes (assuming we are seeking to improve sustainability outcomes).
So, is there a chance to change modern culture, so that slow, important variables receive more attention, relative to fast, less important variables? Is this already happening, just not in the daily news? Could and should the profile of slow variables be increased, and if so, how?