AT&T’s most recent ad campaign is all about getting there first, “staying a step ahead,” being the closest possible to the newest source of the newest News–and chiding the stragglers, those who got there too late, those for whom the News is Old News. Shame! They miss the “flash” mob, they miss the party, they miss the boat, they miss their future spouse, they miss the free office masseuse–because they were not a step ahead, like everyone else, they were a step back, and they miss The Next Thing. Their technology restrained them. Because they did not have the Samsung Skyrocket, they were late for their own self-realization–they lost the bid–they missed their chance.
We’ve already covered Percy’s notion of authenticity in his essay “The Loss of the Creature”–the man who is bound to search for something genuine in his taking in of the Grand Canyon, and yet bound to stare at the picture postcard of the Grand Canyon, and forever ask why it wasn’t fulfilling, why he still feels this general malaise… The same is happening here–it’s a question of authenticity, a hope that our arrival at the edge of the crevasse is the Original Exploration of My Crevasse. We long to matter, we long to experience a genuine experience. And so we want the gadgets to get us there quickest, because getting there first is getting there authentically.
Now, there’s something more Percy would have said about News per se, especially in regards to our Facebook feeds, our hash-tags, our Refresh. What are we after? What is it about getting News? What is News? How is News different from the collection of Information? Is it different? It’s right to say that the things we’re receiving text alerts about–42 seconds late, mind you–aren’t monumental “alerts,” are messages in a bottle, but are not “The Message in the Bottle.” It’s still a provocative indicator, as Percy would say, of the castaway awaiting “News from across the Sea,” for some kind of news to be spoken into our lives, “peculiarly relevant to the concrete predicament of the hearer of the news.” There’s something about getting the news first, but, more importantly, there’s something to be said about getting the news. We don’t just want general information, pieces of knowledge, the castaway’s “Island News” that, despite its relevance, is “relevant to the everyday life of any islander on any island at any time.”
No, that’s not enough. We, the AT&T officemates, are up to the gills in island news everyday. We want “News from Across the Seas” that speaks to our situation as castaways, and calls us out as such, “a stranger who is in the world but who is not at home in the world.” In short, it is the news we have been waiting for. Percy is calling the Good News this “News from Across the Seas”:
Who is the hearer? The hearer is the castaway, not the man in the seminar, but the man who finds himself cast into the world. For whom is this news not news? It is not news to a swallow, for a swallow is what it is, no more and no less; it is at home in the world and no castaway. It is not news to unfallen man because he too is at home in the world and no castaway. It is not news to a fallen man who is a castaway but believes himself to be at home in the world, for he does not recognize his own predicament. It is only news to a castaway who knows himself to be a castaway.
…Is this [Messenger] then anyone who rings the doorbell and says “Come!” No indeed, for in these times everyone is an apostle of sorts, ringing doorbells and bidding his neighbor to believe this and do that. In such times, when everyone is saying “Come!” when radio and television say nothing else but “Come!” it may be that the best way to say “Come!” is to remain silent. Sometimes silence itself is “Come!”
…The Jehovah’s Witness and the Holy Roller are bearing island news to make themselves and the other islanders happy. But what if a man receives the commission to bring news across the seas to the castaway and does so in perfect sobriety and with good faith and perseverance to the point of martyrdom? And what if the news the newsbearer bears is the very news the castaway had been waiting for, news of where he came from and who he is and what he must do, and what if the newsbearer brought with him the means by which the castaway may do what he must do? Well, then, the castaway will, by the grace of God, believe him.