Jewish World Review Sept. 29, 2000 / 29 Elul 5760
This just in, sort of: How
the news can make you
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
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
The first time an AOL user attempts to read about
the Olympics this month, he or she is greeted by the
"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
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
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,
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
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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