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Jewish World Review Sept. 29, 2000 / 29 Elul 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Consumer Reports

This just in, sort of: How the news can make you calm -- THE GREAT and unanticipated gift to come out of the Olympic Games in Sydney may turn out to be this:

The mental health of the world can be improved forevermore because of a side effect of the 2000 Olympics -- something no one thought of beforehand.

As virtually everyone knows by now, the NBC television coverage of the Olympics is 100 percent tape-delayed -- every competition that you see took place long before you see it. The reason for the yesterday's-games-today coverage is the time difference between the United States and Australia -- and because NBC owns the rights to television coverage of the Olympics, no American TV stations may show any of the competition -- even highlights -- until NBC says it's all right to do so. Meaning, a day later.

Much has been written about the confusion this has caused; Americans can hear the results of the contests on the radio, read about the contests in their newspapers or on the Internet -- but they can't see them until many hours have passed. Some people make it a point to find out who won which competitions, and then feel they don't have to actually watch those competitions later on; others feel angry when they inadvertently hear or read who won a contest, because they feel it ruins the eventual telecast for them.

Which brings us to the improve-the-mental-health-of-the-world benefit of this year's Olympics.

It comes from an unlikely source: the America Online worldwide computer service provider.

AOL -- which prides itself on delivering news, data, and chatter instantly -- has given its subscribers a choice about reading news of the Olympics.

The first time an AOL user attempts to read about the Olympics this month, he or she is greeted by the following message:

"Note from the editor:

"AOL's Olympic area will be reporting news and results in realtime from Sydney.

"Due to the time difference in Sydney, we will frequently be reporting results before they are televised in the U.S.

"If you do not want to see the results of events before they are televised, please select that option to the right. . . . You will get the news from Sydney, just not the most current."

In other words, AOL subscribers have the option of reading detailed reporting about the events -- but of assuring themselves that they will read the stories late. The stories will automatically be stored in the computer until NBC's producers telecast the events in the U.S. Only then will the AOL users who select the don't-spoil-it-for-me option read about what they have just seen.

This is quite a development. For many years, every technological innovation seemed to be pursuing the same goal: faster. It went without saying: Faster was the only quality worth seeking. The world lusted to be connected right now, to be informed right now, to be kept not just up to date, but up to the second.

Now comes this -- the globe's most powerful computer network saying: We have come up with technology that allows us to slow things down for you -- to hold things up until you are ready for them.

The potential mental-health improvement can come after the Olympics are over:

What if all news -- not Olympics news, but real news, front-page stories -- could be delayed, say, 72 hours?

The reporting would be just as thorough; the writing would be just as colorful and thoughtful. The same news reports you are reading in this morning's paper, or that you are watching on television today, would be presented to you -- but three days late.

What a peaceful and relaxing notion. The trouble with news is that it can make you so darned nervous. You are bombarded with it, you feel overwhelmed by it -- and often you are frustrated because there's not a thing you can do about it.

If the AOL development were to be applied to all news, all the time, then you would have the option of being a good citizen and keeping up with events -- but not driving yourself nuts. You'd read and watch the news -- knowing that these things happened three days ago. There's nothing for you to be agitated about -- whatever is on the front page has already been dealt with by someone. Whatever the headlines scream about has already been attended to.

And you'll find out about it.

In three days.

The news you need -- when you need it.

Which is not necessarily now.

The future awaits: news that is new even when it's old.

News that soothes.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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