But all have inched us ever-closer to what was always the unspoken, Platonic ideal of news: complete understanding of what is going on someplace else even as it is occurring. News so instantaneous that, somehow, it actually gives us a fleeting glimpse of the future.
In other words, the Eye of God.
The outbreak of the Iraq War found us at the nexus of this gnawing desire for real-time news and television's willingness to pour money and reporters into the salient to deliver it.
The result for me, and I suspect millions of other Americans, was like a long, disorienting Info Drunk. Being on the Left Coast had its added wrinkle: dawn in Baghdad was midnight in California — which meant that at 2 a.m. I was still sitting in my home office, at the keyboard pinging my way from one site to another — often revisiting a posting site three or four times per minute to look at any new listings while flicking my eyes to the plasma screen next to the computer monitor and punching the remote across a half-dozen network and cable news channels in search of the tiniest morsel of new information. What does Jennings say? Is that tracer fire on MSNBC? What does James Lileks think? I got to know that damn minaret across the square from the fixed camera in Baghdad better than I did the façade of my neighbor's house across the street.
I quickly found myself in a perpetual search for Special News Bulletins, or best of all, live footage beaming up from the front. If it was pixelated, it was perfect. Warfare as a giant Chuck Close painting. I actually stared intently for 10 minutes at an image of Ollie North that was little more than a roiling black void. Once, in the early morning hours, I realized I was flinching at a live firefight, expecting to take a bullet at any moment.
I had become a Feed Freak with a serious jones for breaking news.
Now It’s Back to Normal
Of course, there were also diversions, the USO shows for the new Millennium: that saturnalian parade of desert foxes and infobabes who lived only to service my news habit.
One day, trapped in my pickup truck delivering kids to school, I found myself reduced to the least important news source at such times: radio. Luckily, my satellite radio picks up ABC Talk and Fox News.
On the latter I heard Jennifer Eccleston give a report that was so incoherent and full of malapropisms (the Norm Crosby of Kuwait) that I realized I'd watched her a dozen times on TV and never actually listened to a word she said — what with those windblown blonde tresses and the lip gloss she looks like a Varsity cheerleader for Armageddon High, and will no doubt soon be the Homecoming Homecoming Queen. And, moreover, I didn't care. Just look earnest and give me another grainy live feed, baby.
And now it's over, the war itself having been fought at a high-tech real-time pace. We freaks now find ourselves in the endless dreary afterwards. Over the last few days I've turned on the news, but it's hard to care. I've surfed the Web sites, but they've reverted to their old partisan crabbiness. I've walked out of the bar in that terrible white light of dawn and duty. Little League and Microsoft Word. And, of course, Harry Potter.
But now that I've tasted the pure stuff, there is no going back. I'll bet that you, dear reader, feel the same.