The fast lane

Before there was CNN, there was Sesame Street. Before there was Ted Turner, there was Big Bird.

Lest you think you're missing something in that fact, this column is not about "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"

It is about attention span, or the lack thereof.

Both Sesame Street and CNN perfected rapid-fire short sequences. They altered the way we watch television as well as the content presented to us. Get it quick, or don't get it.

For my money, when it comes to information (MTV is a wholly different animal) no two styles of programming can lay claim to a greater impact on viewer habits. Big Bird first made his 30-second "Hello kids, here's the letter A" debut in 1969; 24 hour Cable Network News came along in 1980.

The ferris wheel of events CNN spins before its viewers, bracketed by imposing graphics and the catchiest music, carved a niche - being there at the viewers' convenience, not the networks' - into an empire. (see article right)

Unquestionably, CNN made staying in touch with the events of the day easier. But like an interstate highway, CNNs "scenery" often whizzed by, lacking definition and context.

With all its convenience, a four-lane freeway divides parts of a city from itself, especially low-income and minority neighborhoods. The downside to CNN is that it disconnects viewers from a sense of place, from their own towns.

There is a tendency for the local TV news to report every car accident - live, if they can get the footage - within a 30-mile radius. Is this because the CNN factor compels them to be immediate? I think so.

CNN is definitely the fast lane of news. Most of life is not in the fast lane. Remember to pull off and read a newspaper.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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