The other day someone was saying to me, with pride in his voice, that he never read a paper anymore. Not that he never this paper anymore but any paper. I made an assumption and said, "Oh, do you just listen to NPR now?" And he laughed and said, "Of course not." And then I asked him how he got his news. "I don't really," he said. "Sometimes a little television, sometimes stuff on the Internet. Mostly I depend on you to tell me what I should I know." The weight of that burden and lack of worldly concern by this former top executive of a multinational company was alarming.
I tried to tell myself he was teasing me. But then I heard from another old friend that his wife had joined a book club here and all the women were bragging about never reading the local paper or listening to the local radio station. They didn't want to be burdened with local politics.
All politics are local, I wanted to scream.
And who are these Stepford/Zombie/Kardashians? Caring about what they have rather than what they give? Being an informed citizen is part of the responsibility of having certain freedoms. And being informed by folks who make it their job to try and find out both sides of an issue and present it to you before the road is torn up, the open space developed, the building is built too tall, the water is polluted, the taxes raised.
The news includes information of the comings and goings of a community. The births and deaths and high school sport scores. They tell you where the auditions are, the church potluck, the free cooking class.
The delivery of news has changed dramatically in my life and I understand this. Reading the morning and afternoon newspapers and watching the six o'clock and ten o'clock news is no longer how most folks gather their daily information. Nor do people wait until the weekly newsmagazine comes out to learn what is happening in the rest of the world, and weigh that information against the multi-pound Sunday newspaper. For news junkies, it is exciting to have news delivered on our phones and computers in real time and watch something like the Arab Spring reveal itself in very real time.
But it seems somehow that all that access to news has somehow diminished it for many. A kind of "since the world is moving so fast, maybe I will just step aside and let it all pass by. All I can do is get the kids to soccer, ski racing, music lessons. All I can do is my job and work out and walk the dogs. All I can do is take care of my elderly parent in another city, state. All I can do is all I can do."
But the social contract of an informed citizenry requires becoming informed. Your careful diet of fruits and fiber may be just right for your body, but your mind requires a smart diet too. Cue up the music of the Jefferson Airplane and let Grace Slick scream from White Rabbit, "feed ... your ... head!"
I understand that following the news has consequences. Drinking from the fire hydrant of available news sources can have you feeling there are so many places that need your help, voice, attention. How could you possibly be effective? Or how could your small donation/attention matter in problems so large or historic or distant?
Step back a moment from the noise, the requests and appeals, the sad faces, the devastating photographs of war-torn, weather-damaged, drought-affected landscapes.
Look outside your window. At your neighborhood. At your favorite trail/ski slope. Check your bill from the restaurant/retail store for the taxes they apply to the total. Look at the condition of the roads you drive on. And think about the quality and quantity of water that comes out of your tap at home and at work. Walk up or down Main Street and ask yourself about every vacant lot and building for sale or lease. Ask yourself what the future of those spaces could be. Look at the current open space in the hollow at the Park City Mountain Resort that is owned by a private family and a New York investor and ask yourself where are the plans to develop that land right now? Ditto the open space at Quinn's Junction approved to be a movie studio. What happened to that project?
We all love our little town and show it off to our guests and visitors. But without learning about how fragile it is and our quality of life here, we will become just another topic at somebody's book club when they tsk tsk tsk about the ugly structure, unwelcome tax, unfair contract for employees, or torn-up road on the way to their favorite trail or concert venue. When you are uninformed, things suddenly start to happen to you instead of happening with you.
You need to read. You need to watch. You need to listen. And here's the most important part you need to teach your children and grandchildren and neighborhood kids to do the same. Just like you would encourage them to plant a garden or ride a bike.
Being an informed citizen is the trade-off for the benefits of being a citizen. Share this with someone who could use a little nudge to add real news to their diet. They can consume it whenever they have/make time, even this very Sunday in the Park ...
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.