Sunday, March 23, 2008

24 hours of information overload

We all know people who read twelve newspapers in the morning, following that up in the afternoon with an academic history, non-popular biography or experimental novel and winding up in the evening with the latest Sundance Festival movie, if they are not off to the Symphony or Opera. In the background they listen to public radio and TV, occasionally clicking to CNN for the headlines, Fox for a bit of newsporn, MSNBC or CNBC for a break, or C-SPAN for guilty pleasures. In their off hours they are experts at navigating the blogosphere.

I know more of these intellectual wallflowers than most, having made my living cheek by jowl with dozens of information junkies for 42 years.

Most of them are at heart nice people. I'm not complaining about them, even though they never miss a chance to correct my ignorance or score a point off my hide. When I need an obscure question answered, I know where to go.

But these people do not know as much as they think. It is impossible to know more than .083 per cent of what is happening at any given time. (I made up that statistic, but it carries a certain truth.)

To prove this point, if only about politics, Gene Weingarten, the resident "investigative humorist" for the Washington Post, spent a solid 24 hours listening to nonstop punditry on TV and radio. To call the process an ordeal would be to patronize it.

The man is funny. But he's also right. Punditry is Looney Tunes in a tuxedo. (Weingarten ennobled his enterprise by wearing one.)

The piece is full of great lines. Weingarten, though a self-styled "New Deal Democrat," thinks Rush Limbaugh can be lighthearted -- but he considers Bill O'Reilly "as serious as an aneurysm."

Weingarten also coins memorable and lasting neologisms. Foofahahas, for instance. "Foofahahas are half foofaraw and half brouhaha. They occur on Capitol Hill with some regularity, identifiable by their momentary intensity but fleeting duration; typically, they cause a flurry of speechifying and accusation launching, dominating the day's spin cycle. Then they instantly disappear like water in the sand."

MONDAY, MARCH 24: Weingarten conducted a merry chat session with his readers today about his self-imposed ordeal.

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