I was in my health club today huffing and puffing on the elliptical while staring at a wall of 10 television screens. On one screen I watched as CNN reporter Sara Sidner ducked at the cracking sounds of guns being fired into the air in Libya's capital.
At times, she would nervously rub her chest the way people do when they feel shooting pains. The CNN anchor back home kept yelling at her to “move behind the wall” to protect herself from the whizzing bullets. It was terrifying to watch her heroic display, and as a former journalist, I was proud of the job she was doing.
The screen next to her featured Whoopi Goldberg and the women of the “The View” chatting up Rob Lowe about his memories of meeting Katherine Hepburn at a hotel when he was 8 years old. She fed him tea and cakes after he boldly knocked on the door of her hotel suite.
Three screens down from me a re-run of the “Today Show” featured its two female anchors interviewing guests while riding on exercise bikes and trading quips on how many calories they were burning.
Meanwhile, to the left of the CNN report and its bobbing and weaving correspondent, a CNBC anchor was cheerfully relating the stock market's 300-point gain.
Is it any wonder that I go home every night with an aching, confused brain and a sense that everything is off balance? In our worlds, the sacred lies next to the profane, and it often feels like both are given equal weight. Perhaps they are. Judging from the faces of the people next to me, half the room was fixated on CNN and the other half on the “Today Show” and “The View.”
My father would arrive at home in the 1960s after spending a day that may have been hard and stressful but was certainly not as discombobulating. He might read the newspaper, perhaps turn the radio on during his short drive from the suburban Chicago train station. But he'd probably have fewer images in his head and voices ringing in his ears after an entire 24-hour period than I had in less than an hour.
And we wonder why so many people pack into sleep clinics and pop drugs to nod off every night.
As communicators, we're supposed to love this electronic Tower of Babel. The information comes storming into our brains, and it's nearly impossible to block it out, no matter how many filters you employ. I like to say that it seems we get the news from the air around us without knowing from whence it came, so ubiquitous is its presence.
I'd be lying to you if I didn't occasionally wish it would all just go away.
Mark Ragan is the CEO of Ragan Communications, which publishes
PR Daily. Follow Mark on Google+.