Over the years I’ve acquired quite a number of quintessential grown-up habits: I eat my vegetables, occasionally floss my teeth, pay attention to my financial health, and I read the news.
The news can certainly be dry, dull, and all around uninspiring. Flip open the mottled grey pages of your daily newspaper and hey look, local man fined for smuggling chickens across the border, high-level ministerial officer attends opening ceremony of inter-school poetry competition, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf has introduced a festive Chinese New Year drink, for a limited time only!11!
However, sprinkled between the (rather entertaining) madcap court cases and the public podium paparazzi, there are articles which skim over very salient topics like the global oil market – the complete plunge in oil prices and the ripple effects and ramifications felt by other oil-exporting states.
Sure, sure – all this world economy and politics and current affairs business is super-duper BORING, unimportant, and doesn’t concern you. Old people talk about this stuff because they have nothing better to do with their lives and it gives them something to think about. But why bother so much about it if it won’t affect you, right? It’s just depressing and that’s not healthy.
While I agree that China’s economic slowdown, the Japanese negative interest rate policy, and the US Presidential Race seem extremely far-flung and difficult to relate to all the way here in lil’ old Brunei, other news like the unfolding events in Brazil and Latin America regarding the Zika virus have triggered public statements and opinion pieces.
The news can be very confusing, and with brand new updates and articles every single day (and in the digital age – pretty much every second/minute/hour, depending on how important the breaking news is) it’s easy to get swept away in the tsunami of information.
Tip: Don’t get bogged down and overwhelmed trying to catch up with news, and trying to understand every single news article and every single issue. Just spend a few minutes of each day flipping through the papers, and do this consistently for a few weeks. Read the headlines and sample the first few sentences of each article. Dabble your fingers in and get a good feel. Tread the water slowly, get yourself comfortable, and then go with the flow.
Because one thing I’ve realized is the news becomes far more telling and revealing if you follow it.
Do you remember watching The Sixth Sense back in the 90s? Or movies like Memento, Fight Club? How the incredible twist at the end made you want to instantly rewind and rewatch the movie all over again, so you could go through the entire thing with a fresh eye and keep a look out for details and foreshadowing indicators that you probably missed the first time?
Funnily enough, the news and current events – which unfold on a piecemeal sekubit sini sana day-to-day headline basis – works in a very similar way. You’ll almost never find an article that walks you through an entire story – start to finish – how it started, why it started, how people reacted, what the facts are, what people did to fix it, what did the government do, what did the people do, did it work?
(You’ll only find that type of analysis in scholarly, academic papers and these are often retrospective – only after the situation has uncontrollably exploded and the dust is given a few years to settle. And by then it’s too late to do much – except write about it, distill the “lessons” and hope history doesn’t repeat itself.)
(Spoiler alert: It often does.)
What is likely to happen is someday a big, bold, SUPER IMPORTANT and RELEVANT TO ME headline will be emblazoned across the front page and people will clamber all over each other, crafting viral whatsapp rumours before shooting them out like poison darts, fingers sternly pointed at (in order of likelihood) incompetent government agencies, corrupt leadership figures, job-stealing immigrants/expats, biased policies, mismanagement of government funds, etc. etc. etc.
The general public will be up in arms in the uproar; how could this suddenly happen?! How could they – THEY! The faceless, mysterious puppet-masters who reside in the upper echelons of the civil service – be so ruthless and cold and unkind; what is this blasphemy, this supreme injustice and infringement of our rights!!
Once in a while, there are those headlines that will be screenshot and speed-sent around for as many eyes to read; these are the articles that will make their way onto Instagram feeds and Reddit, and perhaps even spark the curiosity of the international media, giving rise to a new Twitter #hashtag. These headlines, when they do come about, are the Game Changers, and any public announcement by the leadership scheduled to air will have people switching off their playlists and cranking up the volume on their radios and TV screens.
“We never saw it coming.”
But that’s never entirely true.
At least I don’t think so.
[Author’s note: This excludes the completely random ad-hoc policies that sometimes come out of left field; midnight restaurant curfews, “bans” and whatnot.]
The signs of potentially big things to come are always there, and will always be there if you know where and how to look for them. They will never be blatant and obvious, of course; you will never find them spelt out letter by letter, clear as day.
And that’s where the boring every day run-of-the-mill news articles come in.
The most interesting stories are the ones you find by reading between the lines.
I read the news not necessarily to read explicitly what is being reported, but rather how certain things are being reported, and what the unsaid implications mean on a bigger scale.
News articles are not stand-alone pieces that are meant to represent a whole story in itself. The next time you open a newspaper (and I encourage you to do this every day; if your office has a newspaper subscription like mine does, do make full use of it) think of each article as a tiny jigsaw puzzle piece that makes up a much bigger whole.
The difference is, unlike a traditional jigsaw puzzle, you don’t open the box and have all of the pieces laid out in front of you. You get one piece a day. As events unfold and occur, a new piece shows up on the floor — and there are potentially many different jigsaw “pictures”: the state of national education perhaps, healthcare, the economy, social work, oil and gas, environmental causes, unemployment, infrastructure development projects, even crime rates – whatever may spark your interest!
The spoiler is that actually all of these different “pictures” could eventually combine to create one MEGA-puzzle. That’s ultimately the way of the world: everything, everything is either interlinked or interrelated in a big jumble of noise and chaos. And The Butterfly Effect (which was the basis of this movie of the same name) tells us that very small, insignificant changes can end up creating much larger, far-reaching impacts that were initially unforeseen and unaccounted for.
Now you’re probably thinking:
I don’t have time to read the papers everyday and over-analyse like a nutjob.
Well you’re in luck!
I can be your nutjob.
I enjoy reading the news. It makes me chuckle and scoff and occasionally furrow my brow in thought. It’s a fun start to my work day and my close friends are very familiar with Myn’s Newspaper Commentary – where I take pictures of particularly amusing/interesting articles and send them along to my group chats with a brief commentary or observation.
Security guard who misappropriated ATM cash to buy a selfie stick? HILARIOUS!
Venezuela (95% of revenue from oil exports; largest oil reserves in the world, even bigger than Saudi Arabia) in an economic state of emergency? TERRIFYING!
I’ve decided to keep track of my “interesting news articles” – so I am pleased to introduce a new section of Myn’s Desk: The News Reel!
You might find a couple of older “news reel” posts on this blog that consist of single-article links. I’ve decided to make it a little bit more comprehensive from now on; I haven’t quite figured it out yet but I’ll either do a round-up every week or two weeks or month… Either organized by week/month or category/topic. We’ll see how it goes.
In terms of Brunei news (which is probably the majority of articles), I will mostly be linking to The Brunei Times because I’m just more familiar with navigating their online content, and both the English newspapers have extremely similar content anyway.
To get you started, here’s the first teaser selection of articles (which happen to be personal finance related, like the majority of posts on this blog thus far – how very apt):
THE FACTS (BAD)**
- 49% of households have no savings (29 May 2015)
- Public reminded to build emergency fund (7 July 2015)
- Study: Most Bruneians do not have emergency fund (31 Oct 2015)
- People must be careful about loans (28 Dec 2015)
- Falling oil prices fail to push civil servants to save (29 Dec 2015)
- Mobile phones sales spike during bonus week (6 Jan 2016)
I will leave you abruptly now. Check back laterish (or tomorrowish… or eventuallyish) for the rest, bye! 🙂
** [Author’s note: I quickly named this section weeks ago while I was curating my list and initially intended to rename it. But I’m going to just leave it for now because I (a) think it’s succinct and fairly reflective, and (b) am too lazy to think of a new name right now ha ha]