News You Can't Really Use

On a rainy day in September of my sophomore year, I spent the better share of a day running back

On a rainy day in September of my sophomore year, I spent the better share of a day running back and forth between my third-floor room in Currier and the courtyard along Garden Street with a pencil, a compass and a screwdriver. My suitemate, Charles, screamed down instructions as I wrestled our satellite dish into place, adjusted it to compensate for the somewhat ‘untraditional’ orientation of Currier House with respect to the cardinal directions and fastened it to the mortar of the courtyard’s retaining wall with some ad-hoc combination of wood chips, nails and twist-e-ties. Incidentally, due to some quirk of 1970s architecture, Currier House carries its own magnetic charge, rendering a compass useless (though still cool-looking) and further complicating my project.

Were I a better liar, or a more standard college student, or maybe just better company, I’d describe with zest the extra sports channels our satellite dish brought in, or the added movie channels, or the free porn, or the fourteen episodes of Seinfeld beamed in daily. I could even talk about how much fun it would be to host weekly “24” parties to flaunt the crystal-clear reception and impressive sound. It would even make sense: “24” is a show of cult-like obsession to our blocking group and my television and satellite receiver were to be vital to the social fabric of my House.

This, though, would betray an important and embarrassing truth. The only thing that kept me out there, steeled against the rain and straining against the wind to affix my satellite dish, was the biting and driving need of a fix.

I’m an information junkie—a stimulation addict—and CNBC’s constant flow of financial news, stock quotes and market information is the only thing that can sate me. I could go from CNBC in my room to checking quotes on my cell phone to bringing up an online brokerage’s website on a computer in the Science Center and back to CNBC in a morning and still manage to take in two classes.

I go to sleep to the drone of Bettina Chuo broadcasting the market data as the Asian markets open, one by one. I wake up to the unnecessarily chipper voice of Maria Bartiromo on Squawk Box before the open of the U.S. markets. And I know the voice, role and habits of every anchor in between. Sometimes I think I’ve fooled myself into believing that these telecasters are my friends, that they care whether or not I’m watching and wonder where I’ve gone when class or practice comes between me and the cool, bluish glow of the numbers that dance across the lower portion of my television, changing from green to red and back to green again. Other times I find myself sad at the close of the markets—unwilling to tear myself away from the screen, my conduit to a world of bids, offers and billions of dollars in transit.

I love everything about it—the jargon of spreads, strips and yields, the comfort with which the jaded interviewees refer to massive sums of money, the twisted “how does this affect the markets” bent taken on every piece of reporting—but most of all, I just love the constant stimulus. Everything is newsworthy. And unlike the other cable news networks, the financial focus of CNBC provides a guarantee that I’ll never find myself watching petcare tips from the pros or how to prepare a wicked bouillabaisse. On CNBC, they’ve found something happening somewhere, and somebody’s making money off of it. I want to know all about it. Show me the transaction! Use the MTV cut-scene style that leads to epilepsy, if you must, but cram every last bit of information through my eyes and into my brain. It’s exciting, it’s constant, and it’s captivating. CNBC must save thousands of recluses from boredom every year.

Like any addiction, though, CNBC leaves carnage in its wake. Just as a chemical addiction can wreak havoc upon the body, my drug of choice has overtaken my life, carving out a path of missed deadlines, assignments undone and obsessive schedule manipulation—no section, problem set or Crimson editorial board meeting can come between me and “Kudlow and Cramer,” the financial news talk show hosted by über-preppy ex-banker Larry Kudlow and über-smart ex-Crimson president James J. Cramer ’77. I frequently go to sleep a day behind in reading, a step behind in an assignment and one step further removed from my other campus obligations. I am, however, one hour ahead in my familiarity with The Street, a culture that draws one in with nice clothes, fast talk and the promise of outrageous riches.

Wall Street has been mythologized by countless memoirs and novels that describe a world of dirty-joke-telling executives who thrive on risk, live on the edge of bankruptcy and make money through a fortuitous combination of dumb luck and insight. If that world still exists, it’s hidden behind a veil of polished, telegenic professionals who parade through studios around the world making their pitches to the investing public. CNBC treats these people as if they were sports stars, changing the financial news day into an extended telecast of a high stakes spectator sport.

CNBC went off-line this weekend as they suburb-hopped into a new headquarters in New Jersey. Thankfully, a pastime more commonly regarded as a spectator sport was heating up, providing me with another way to fill my free time and saving me from a weekend of cigarettes and the shakes. The playoffs were my methadone clinic.

But I’d take stock trading over baseball as America’s pastime any day of the week. I’m counting the hours until tomorrow’s market-open.

Philip W. Sherrill ’05 lives off-campus and concentrates in Social Studies, where “capitalism” is a dirty word. His other obsessions include swords, ribbon belts and little Asian girls. The first step was admitting he has a problem.