Cartoon Gravity 5

The weekly roundup and some ill-formed thoughts on news saturation.

Contrary to what so many on social media will have you believe, I think it is perfectly possible for a human being to be both desperately worried and angry about Putin's unconscionable invasion of Ukraine AND involved in all the other facets of daily life simultaneously.

It is in that spirit that I present this week's newsletter, which is almost entirely NOT about Ukraine, but only because you can get your Ukraine news and opinions from far more informed sources than a website called Cartoon Gravity.

Sources like Anne Applebaum, for example, whose piece "Calamity Again" is well worth reading for background.

A friend and I were discussing the current world situation yesterday and remarking that we seem to have gone from Brexit to Trump to Covid to Putin in an unbroken and exhausting line. That's factually correct, of course, but it's only one way of looking at reality. And if there's one thing I enjoy, it's looking at reality from multiple viewpoints...

The consensus view of reality is almost always grim, because it is filtered for us by the media, in all its forms, and bad news gets ears and eyeballs far more easily and far more stickily than good news does. We know this, it's just how human beings work, and yet knowing it doesn't prevent us from falling for it. And this isn't some bogus complaint about "fake news"; what is being reported from Ukraine is really happening and it is really awful and it does, rightly, demand the world's attention.

But stepping back, looking at the past few years from some kind of distance, it is possible to let all the other things that have happened slide back into the picture and thus we realise that, while Brexit-Trump-Covid-Putin was the headline narrative, these were not the only things that happened.

Indeed, if you were a supporter of Brexit or Trump, those first two issues weren't even bad news for you, they were actually a cause for (misguided, dim-witted) celebration. And other things have certainly happened in your life, and in the world, during that period, good and bad. There's a lot of noise, all the time, and we need to have that noise filtered for us. But the filtering process almost always highlights the bad stuff and so it is sometimes worth focusing back on the noise again, just to remind ourselves that it's there.

When I was a kid (lights pipe), the news was delivered via the morning paper or the radio and via the television in the evening. Things that happened during the day took place out of sight of most people and were then digested, understood and presented hours later. In the long gaps between the news, your life happened. The punctuation of news from the outside world became part of your experience, but it rarely dominated it. Did that solid, slow routine, that balanced diet of everyday experience and news from outside, provoke less anxiety than the constant water-torture drip of rolling news and social media feeds?

I don't really know where I'm going with this. It's Saturday morning and I'm just sitting at my desk rambling on a keyboard. This is one of the many very good reasons why I don't have a newspaper column. I don't have answers and I can't even wrap the questions up in a neat bow for you.

I guess my point is that the world we live in today is demonstrably better than the one I grew up in. The spread of, and wider access to, information is a wonderful thing but it can equally become a major source of anxiety.

The situation in Ukraine is grim and we feel helpless. But watching it unfold, unblinking, for all our waking hours is not making that situation better for anyone involved. You can read or watch a bulletin a few times a day and be every bit as informed as to what is going on as someone who has been glued to their Twitter feed for hours (with the added advantage that the fake news and dodgy supposition will have been largely edited out by the respectable news outlets).

I'm not advocating disengagement, far from it. If you want to actually help, the Ukrainian Institute has posted a list of charities and organisations which are actively trying to help the people of Ukraine and they would all be very pleased to have a few minutes of your attention and whatever money you can afford to spare. Engagement on that level is useful to the victims of this unfolding tragedy. Your anxiety, your outrage, your social media rants are not feeding or clothing anyone and they are not bringing anyone to safety.

I think everyone needs to get as involved as they reasonably can in this situation. But I think there is an upper limit to engagement with breaking news, and by curating your intake sensibly, you can be just as informed as anyone else whilst simultaneously taking part in all the other myriad aspects of life and experience.

All of which, I suppose, is a very long-winded way of saying "Behold the trivia I bring..."

There's a bumper crop of bullshit from this week's Morning Pages, which I'll come to in a moment, but I do have a few links unique to this newsletter first:

The new Soderbergh movie "Kimi" is a tight 90-minute David Koepp thriller with a great central performance from Zoe Kravitz and it's directed with all of Soderbergh's trademark breezy confidence. It was an HBO Max movie, so the best way to see it in the UK is to buy or rent it from your digital provider of choice.

Watching the movie prompted me to order the Logitech Ergo keyboard that Kravitz uses in the film. It's due to arrive later today, I'll report back on how it is. If anyone can identify the mouse she's using, I'd be grateful - I don't think I necessarily want one, it was just frustrating me that I couldn't identify it.

And so to the week's highlights from the Morning Pages:

I posted this piece on Francis Ford Coppola, which I found really inspiring. And then I got carried away with New York Times links that I'm not even sure non-subscribers can access. Those were multimedia pieces which the NYT does rarely but very well. The first was The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek and the more recent one was the gorgeous Six Days Afloat in the Everglades. The one I DIDN'T post, but will now, is Documenting Los Angeles’s Unlikely Urban Fishermen

Elsewhere, a couple of pieces got a lot of traction online this week and they are both really interesting: The elaborate con that tricked dozens into working for a fake design agency and Hadley Freeman's well-argued (whether you agree with her or not) piece for Unherd "Why I stopped being a good girl"

I dipped back into Longreads, after some time away, and found Selling Mayfair: The Very Different World of Prime Central London Realtors (the Guardian article mentioned within it is a fascinating piece) and Charting Worlds: Five Longreads About Maps

There's a certain delicious "EUGH!" factor to Painted Ants Crawl Across Vintage Porcelain Dinnerware by Evelyn Bracklow which I really enjoyed. And, courtesy once again of Messy Nessy Chic, The Paris of Tomorrow That Thankfully Never Was is a fascinating.

Lastly, the always-excellent Kirby Ferguson made a really nice little film exploring the reality behind Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood":

And that's it. I'm out. Have a good weekend. Curate your reality.