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April 23, 2007

The Boy in the Bubble

Here's an interesting question for all y'all; As you know, my day over the next three weeks will be filled with traveling, sitting in hotel rooms, going to tour events and (hopefully) seeing friends and depressurizing. I've been so busy doing each of these today, for example, that I actually haven't the slightest idea of what's happened in the world today, which makes me suspect that if I really wanted to, I could go until May 10 without reading any real sort of outside news at all; in effect, being a media bubble boy, oblivious to the world outside my own little book tour.

My question to you: Should I do this?

I crave your input.

Posted by john at April 23, 2007 11:04 PM

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Scorpio | April 23, 2007 11:27 PM

On WorldCon trips I've done this. If you never have, maybe you should try it. The feeling of unreality when you connect back in at the end is ... curious.

Jude | April 23, 2007 11:31 PM

Of course you should give it a try. I've done this many times, and seldom do I miss much (even though I'm a newsaholic). The big events, such as the recent school massacre, will filter through (unless, of course, you ensconce yourself on a mountain for a week--I've done that too).

David Moles | April 23, 2007 11:33 PM

Hell yes.

Gina Black | April 23, 2007 11:34 PM

I think it's always good to disconnect from the greater world occasionally. But can you really do it?

Ann S. | April 23, 2007 11:34 PM


Cassie | April 23, 2007 11:48 PM

Why not?

Scott | April 23, 2007 11:55 PM

After President Cheney declares martial law in a desperate attempt to quash the widespread rioting, and you're caught outside after the 6:00 pm curfew and find yourself on a bus heading to the nearest Freedom Camp, who'll wish he'd been keeping up on current events THEN, hmmmm?

Jeff Hentosz | April 24, 2007 12:35 AM

I'm with Scott. Five minutes after you disconnect — BAM! — SETI pays off. All that work revising Universe right down the shitter, and you won't know it for three weeks.

Nah; unlikely. Peace out and listen only to the wind and the waves and the birds, Tadpole.

Old Jarhead | April 24, 2007 12:37 AM

Except, of course, that there are TVs blaring in the airports where you will be for nearly 2 hours prior to every flight, TVs blaring in the bars at the restaurants where you go to eat with your serried ranks of sycophants, newspapers left on the uncomfortable gate area seats, etc etc.

Last time I was stationed on Okinawa all I had to do to avoid finding out the Super Bowl score before it was shown on AFN TV (the tape was flown by F-4 Phantom from The Phillipines to Kadena)was the not listen to the only english language radio station (AFN) and threaten my young Marines that if they allowed the score to be spoken within the hallowed halls of my building my vengeance would be terrible.

Now the media thick society would chase me down, pin me on the floor and stuff the score down my throat.

So no - there simply isn't any point to it.

Djscman | April 24, 2007 12:38 AM

Remember back in 2001, when a few groups of campers, fishermen, and the like, meandered back to civilization around the 13th or 14th of September? And everything was a little different? If something that big happened during your tour, and it didn't burst your bubble, that would make an interesting story for the grandkids.

Sure, why don't you try it for a couple of days? A little ignorance of world affairs won't kill you. Plenty of people live in that state all the time.

If you find that Keeping Abreast helps you relax more than flipping through a paperback novel or sixty-some cable channels, then there's nothing keeping you from glancing at the ubiquitous CNN monitors at the airports, or picking up a copy of the Economist, or whatever.

Good luck! Certain fans could try surprising you at your signings with fake, nearly-believable news, but that would be rude.

rick gregory | April 24, 2007 01:22 AM

Did it on a 3 week trip in Europe.. picked up a paper the day before flying back... same old, same old...

Try it... you might like it...

Malcolm Tredinnick | April 24, 2007 01:26 AM

Like others here, I've been through periods of greatly reduced world awareness when I've been travelling and busy. Any really big headlines, you'll see anyway (SETI paying off, being my favorite example). No need to worry about going for total avoidance -- you'll just look weird when you run away from newspapers in the stores -- but not worth worrying about "if a news event falls in the forest and I dont hear...".

diana pharaoh francis | April 24, 2007 02:41 AM

You can count on us to let you know if a meteor is about to crash into earth. Reaily.

Actually, I managed to miss seeing the video that the VT shooter sent to NBC. I was in a bubble of my own apparently. I don't regret it. Maybe you can experience the same.


Mary Robinette Kowal | April 24, 2007 02:48 AM

I gotta say, I enjoy the cluelessness that comes from being on tour. On the other hand, I also had more brainless downtime on tour than any other time in my life, so you might find yourself surfing news out of boredom.

Ted Lemon | April 24, 2007 03:07 AM

Yes, you should definitely do this. Pretty much everything you get from staying abreast of world events is pure crap anyway. Read John Mayer's blog - he did a really nice article about this recently.

Cinderberry | April 24, 2007 03:16 AM

If you never have, you should. It's a form of breath play: amazing while you're out of it, a heady rush when you come back.

(I know, because whenever I visit my parents in Ukraine, BBC news don't reach me for weeks at a time, and I have better things to do while I'm there than to watch local news.)

Lee | April 24, 2007 04:48 AM

Yes, you should do it. I had a friend who was in a coma for several months after a car accident and when he woke up he asked what day and year it was. When he found out, he asked if GWB is still in office he said that it would have been better if he came out of his coma much later.

Deanna Hoak | April 24, 2007 06:16 AM

Yeah, you should try it. When I've done that, I'm mostly reminded that the vast majority of the news I spend large amounts of time on on every day isn't actually worth my time. :-/

ajay | April 24, 2007 06:52 AM

"My God," he said. "You are Shackleton. Where did you come from?"

"We have come over the island," I replied. "When did the war end?"

"The war has not ended. Millions are dying. Europe is mad. The world is mad."

-- probably the most impressive recent bubble experience, from South

Nathan | April 24, 2007 07:33 AM

I'm in a somewhat similar situation right now, prepping a movie in Connecticut for the last five weeks (with way too short weekends home).

Some of the news is unavoidable, but I find myself really pissed off when something truly trivial sneaks through. Yeah, I should know about the Virginia Tech shootings, but do I really give a rat's ass that Alec Baldwin's a crappy father?

I feel like I only have room for a limited amount of new information in my brain, and I wouldn't want something worthwhile squeezed out to make room for stupid stuff.

So, yeah! Try to avoid it. The stuff you need to know will find it's way in anyway.

Tim Walker | April 24, 2007 07:36 AM

By all means, receive any news only through passive means. This will probably increase your rate of book-reading substantially (if my own experience traveling on vacation is any indicator) and very probably will keep you from becoming over-absorbed by whatever hits the news during this time.

Not that you need pointers from me, you pixel-stained so-and-so, but you could also let your imagination run wild and use your normal news-imbibing time to write a story about a guy who goes walkabout in the woods and, while he's gone, misses the fact that SETI pays off (etc.).

Look forward to reading it! ;)

deCadmus | April 24, 2007 07:38 AM

I recommend the bubble. Matter of fact, that's pretty much my own plan for the remainder of this week. I've writing to do, a presentation to finish... and right now I'm stalling before I seal up my own little hermetic environment.

P.S. Just finished TLC. Hugely enjoyable read. And the opening line of chapter six is prolly my favorite printing error, ever. ;)

Dan Bailey | April 24, 2007 08:14 AM

Hah. I did that, once -- during the dot-com boom. Funny how it coincided with the NASDAQ tank.

I've overcome my fear of living in a news-free bubble since then, but yeesh. Nothing like coming home, thinking it's time to put a down payment on a house and a new car, opening up eTrade, and swallowing your gum by accident.

clvrmnky | April 24, 2007 08:42 AM

I heartily recommend doing this occasionally.

By definition, your news and information will be incomplete and truncated, anyway, and full of noise. It can be fun to see how easy it is to drop that infostream level so that you hear only the faintest signal.

The benefit? Faint noise, as well.

Belinarisng | April 24, 2007 09:08 AM

I've done this on trips and it is a wonderful thing. In the end it helps you to put the news in perspective and not get so sucked into the hype of how it is presented. I would be interested in having you do this and then reading your post later of what it felt like and if it had any effect on the way you view the news. Even if you don't do that, it is like a vacation from maddness and ends up feeling really good.

Steve Buchheit | April 24, 2007 09:16 AM

I thought it was a part of your campaign for SFWA President to show you can exist in a bubble.

By all means, exist in the bubble. The world will keep turning wihtout you, Professor Higgins. Just don't exclude the family. And if anything really big happens out here we'll let you know.

This is all predicated on your ability to exist in the bubble. I personally, would probably get a little itchy after a few days without seeing/hearing/reading some newcasts. But that's me.

Dr. Phil | April 24, 2007 09:18 AM

In the summer of 1978 a college buddy and I got in his Chevy van and did 4500 miles of driving in New England and Canada in 17 days. After nearly two weeks on the road without real news -- no TV, radio, newspapers, etc. -- we were having a chat in Southwest Harbor in Maine on board this guy's 48-foot sailboat and he turned on the TV news. The lead story? It was about the John F. Kennedy assassination... Rick and I decided nothing important must have happened during those two weeks. (grin)

Much more fun -- watching The Weather Channel when you're on the road.

Dr. Phil

Chris Gerrib | April 24, 2007 09:34 AM

The longest I was without news was 30 days at sea (on one of Uncle Sam's gray cruiseliners). At the end of that float, I wanted to find out the news. It was refreshing.

Jon Hansen | April 24, 2007 09:36 AM

I spent a lot of December disconnected like that, distracted by holiday and family and childcare. Didn't watch the news, read the paper, or even read any online news sites. The one thing I noticed was that it affected a lot of my online reading afterwards. I was no longer as interested in the political/news online sites I once followed closely.

In retrospect, this is probably a good thing.

Martyn Taylor | April 24, 2007 09:44 AM

Go for it. If its important and involves you, you're going to know about it, and if it doesn't involve you what use is there in you knowing about it?


Chad Wright | April 24, 2007 10:58 AM

I do this all the time when I'm on a multi-day deadline. It's actually quite refreshing not hearing about all the bad things going on in the world.

I also agree with Jon Hansen. I was a political/news junkie. I had a few weeks late last year where where I was under a constant deadline. Now I probably only check the news once every few days and have little interest in politics.

An Eric | April 24, 2007 11:01 AM

What? Go into a bubble and miss all the crucial, hard-hitting, inquisitive, investigative hard news reporting that today's mass-multimedia outlets make easily available so that a well-educated and informed citizenry can apply their honed critcal-thinking skills to make sound decisions about how they can participate in a functioning democracy? How can--

I'm sorry, I thought I could keep a straight face throughout the whole thing but I started losing it around that whole "critical thinking" part. The real question is whether you can make it through an entire day without knowing the current status of Mrs. Federline's rehab/underware matrix. Is she in? Is she commando? Can you handle not knowing? Can you? Can?

RooK | April 24, 2007 11:38 AM

It's funny how the mediums of our news providers has the effect of warping our ability to determine what is important. Somehow there is a widely-held belief that we need to know things as soon as they happen, even though most of the important news stories aren't well-reported until considerably after the fact, and the vast majority of the "news" is arbitrarily focussed attention with very little actual immediacy.

Jonathan Vos Post | April 24, 2007 12:05 PM

(1) If you stay in the bubble, the external universe goes into a mixed state, and the wave function does not collapse until you get home and read news. Congratulations! You've just transformed yourself into Schrodinger's cat. Ooooh, look at the cute fuzzy kitty...

(2) "Literature is news that stays news."
[Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading (1934) chapter 8]

Jim Wright | April 24, 2007 12:24 PM

Chris Gerrib: The longest I was without news was 30 days at sea (on one of Uncle Sam's gray cruiseliners). Oh C'mon, LT, you're saying the Early Bird in message traffic every other day isn't news?

Personally, I watch THC and TLC while on the road. I can watch a whole marathon of Modern Marvels without interruption. I get my news updates from NPR in the rental car while driving into wherever I'm lecturing.

Roy G. Ovrebo | April 24, 2007 12:25 PM

Jonathan Vos Post: If you stay in the bubble, the external universe goes into a mixed state, and the wave function does not collapse until you get home and read news. Congratulations! You've just transformed yourself into Schrodinger's cat.

Well, since reading the news might make you Bloody Furious, this might be a good thing.

Carl V. | April 24, 2007 12:44 PM

Could make for an interesting experiment. I get so sick of news that I essentially do this anyway. What would make it even more of an interesting experiment would be the challenge to actually stay away from the news. Despite not going out of my way to look for it I see headlines every time I open my Comcast home page and get news thrown at me every time I turn on the radio or television. That might be even more challenging than resisting the urge to check up on the world.

David | April 24, 2007 12:47 PM

You've got this great opportunity to change the meta-news, the whole deal about where, how and when you do your news-scarfing. Take the time to look at the process, and you'll probably find things that have needed changing for a long time. Stuff that hasn't worked out the way you expected. Stuff that you've been putting up with out of sheer inertia, that needs to be booted out. This is good.

SueAnne | April 24, 2007 12:57 PM

heavens yes!

we always avoid tv/radio/newspapers when we travel to cons, which makes for a refreshing break.

when we got married (almost 20 years ago) we spent our honeymoon in a cabin outside of Soldotna Alaska. having better things to do than watch TV, and no newspaper delivery, we thoroughly enjoyed being bubble people.

note, tho, that when we did turn on the tv, the day before we left, the news was full of the lockerby airliner explosion. the impact was all that more terrible because we were "out of the habit" of daily horror reporting. so be prepared for (no pun intended) the potential of explosive decompression when you do re-enter the media world.

Tom Nixon | April 24, 2007 01:06 PM

On our honeymoon, we missed the start of the first Iraq war. We were otherwise occupied.

Did it end up being meaningful? Not really.

Cameron | April 24, 2007 01:39 PM

yea you should, live in your own world for a while, think of it as a vacation. I bet you'll have a really good time. Thats what I do anyway

JonathanMoeller | April 24, 2007 01:45 PM

Why not? All the news is usually bad anyhow.

Ben | April 24, 2007 02:06 PM

Looks like a resounding Yes to your question.

Matt | April 24, 2007 04:10 PM

Following your thread on "Being Poor" before, a lot of people have experienced this with cable service cut off, then electricity and finally the batteries running out. It might be a good thing as you confront the essential things in life and not worry about morons on the boob tube.

Cynic | April 24, 2007 04:13 PM

I stopped watching the news and reading papers shortly before Comrade Pelosi took over from the power mad fascists. Given the choice between the two glorious parties we have, I've given up.

It has been good for me. I ignore them and my blood pressure only gets elevated when I exercise or hear some dimwitted simpleton wanting the government to make their life better. Govenrment is inherently a bad thing and should be limited at every turn. aghhh! There I go again 160/90 and rising....must..get...back to...bubble!!!!

Alex J. Avriette | April 24, 2007 04:58 PM

Absolutely. Kicking the news habit for a while feels great. Focus on your friends and family, enjoy where you are. You can come back to it later and "catch up." The really important stuff you can see (mushroom clouds!) or you will hear about anyways. The rest of it you don't gotta pay too much attention to.


MWT | April 24, 2007 04:58 PM

Hmmm. I'm pretty much in a perpetual bubble already. If it's important, other people will talk about it enough that I'll find out. Otherwise, I don't feel like I'm missing anything.

National politics: GWB is still in office, therefore everything still sucks.
International politics (last three decades): there's conflict in the Middle East.

That pretty much covers it, as far as I'm concerned. ;)

Chris Gerrib | April 24, 2007 05:41 PM

Jim Wright - no I don't consider the "Early Bird" as news. Especially since it seems like we got one weekly at best. The Commo kept saying stuff like "FFGs don't have the best comm suite."

The Early Bird is about as much news as one gets while travelling, which is to say enough to know that the world has not ended.

Buck | April 24, 2007 05:47 PM

When I've lived overseas, I've involuntarily done this, and for such a news junkie, it's actually nice. In retrospect, I'm amazed how 'remote' Paraguay was in 1982. Other than the international edition of "Time," there really was no news. The Soviet Union in the summer of '87 was even worse- it was like being on a different planet.

This is why I like to take a week long camping trip every year- blow all the gunk out of the cerebrum and just live.

Jim Wright | April 24, 2007 05:58 PM

Chris: your comment just confirms my opinion that it sucks to be on a Fig (for you non-Navy types - a Frigate (commonly called a Fig for its designator, FFG) is like a real warship, only smaller) and Commo's are notorious bullshit artists but in this case I think he was actually telling you the truth.

I earned my SWO pin on CG's, much better. Of course, I'm a Warrant, so life is dammed good no matter what shitty job I'm assigned to. Heh.

gary | April 24, 2007 06:01 PM

The weird thing for me about being away from home for a while isn't just coming back to find out what's been going on without my knowing, news-wise, it's also coming home to the weird sensation that "something's changed'", and I can't quite figure out what it is ... as in, I don't *remember* that street being there ... or do I? ...

Reader | April 24, 2007 06:07 PM

If you decide to "live in a bubble" during the tour, we'll be able to tell you things about the outside world (via comments on the blog) and you might just believe them :P

Kathryn from Sunnyvale | April 24, 2007 06:55 PM

You have to do it, especially because (when you're done) you'll find out that the bubble isn't where you now think it is.

You'll still have a perfectly good idea of what's happening: if nothing else you'll catch the big events above the fold in newspaper boxes. There's newspapers in the bookstores' magazine sections, and in coffeehouses, in airplanes and at your friends houses.

Then, when your tour is done and you're contemplating the jump back into the Feed, you'll understand what you're about to do to yourself (in a way that just one or three days offline and off the beaten track doesn't do).

Chang, the real O.C. | April 24, 2007 07:56 PM

Do it.

You'll either be like, "Holy fuck! That happened! How did I miss that!"

or else you'll be like,

"Holy fuck! Nothing happened!"

Which, if you'd been watching Dancing with The Satrs last night, you would know was not the case.

Nathan | April 24, 2007 08:49 PM


I know exactly how you feel, but for real. I'm a movie location manager and I do most of my work at home in NY. A couple of years ago, I spent close to 8 months mostly on the road. When I came back I was scouting locations for a commercial and had to find a particular type of roof-deck with a view. A friend suggested I check out the Gansevoort Hotel in the Meat Markets. "Where the hell is the Gansevoort Hotel?", I asked him. "At the corner of 13th St. and 9th Ave.", he said.

I make my living by knowing my city, but when I had left town, the corner of 13th & 9th was still boarded up warehouses. Very freaky to come home and find a modern hi-rise where there's supposed to be a crappy old warehouse.

Chris Gerrib | April 24, 2007 10:22 PM

So Jim Wright said "Frigate (commonly called a Fig for its designator, FFG) is like a real warship, only smaller)."

I resemble that remark :-)

Actually, I always thought real sailors served on tin cans. The posh types went for the cruisers.

philm | April 25, 2007 02:14 PM

Bah. We all know there are only two types of ships - subs and targets. :)

The best thing about coming out of your media detox is that everything seems fresh and new, at least for a little while. Seriously, it's a great opportunity to scrub off the jaded veneer that exposure to 24/7 "news" outlets tends to create.

Rachel | April 25, 2007 04:55 PM

I managed to completely miss the Oklahoma bombing by being in Yugoslavia at the time. It was odd. I know I'm late to the parade, but I'm voting with the "skip the news" crowd.

Ron | April 26, 2007 02:42 PM

Cinderberry said:
If you never have, you should. It's a form of breath play: amazing while you're out of it, a heady rush when you come back.

(I know, because whenever I visit my parents in Ukraine, BBC news don't reach me for weeks at a time, and I have better things to do while I'm there than to watch local news.)

This is my favourite comment on this website, ever. Wow.

I think you should do it. The world will not end. I remember when Princess Di died, I didn't find out until like a week later, because I was travelling. Nowadays I think it would be forced down my throat somehow. You should try it, and see if you actually do miss something important. If you don't, that may say something about how the media is saturating society.

Carol Elaine | April 26, 2007 08:44 PM

Bubble it, babe.

I'll be doing the same this weekend, after a fashion, as I'll be spending two and half days in San Diego for the California Democratic Convention. Which means I'll hear about ALL of the political news, but not much else. It is a bizarre little bubble.

Of course, this means I'll also be missing you at the LA Festival of Books. Excuse me while I sob. And take care of LA for me while I'm gone!

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