We have friends who will religiously cut short whatever social or emotional gathering they are in, and resolutely head indoors at 6pm: they have to watch “the news,” they say.
Having given up “watching the news” some years ago because of the slops being shovelled out as brainfood, I find myself more in agreement with David writing at Raptitude on the many blessings of giving up “the news”:
To be clear, I’m mostly talking about following TV and internet newscasts here. This post isn’t an indictment of journalism as a whole. There’s a big difference between watching a half hour of CNN’s refugee crisis coverage (not that they cover it anymore) versus spending that time reading a 5,000-word article on the same topic…
A few things you might notice, if you take a break:
1) You feel better
A common symptom of quitting the news is an improvement in mood.
This is true.
News junkies will say [this improvement in mood is] because you’ve stuck your head in the sand.
But that assumes the news is the equivalent of having your head out in the fresh, clear air. They don’t realize that what you can glean about the world from the news isn’t even close to a representative sample of what is happening in the world.
Their selections exploit our negativity bias…. Curate your own portfolio. You can get better information about the world from deeper sources, who took more than a half-day to put it together.
2) You were never actually accomplishing anything by watching the news
If you ask someone what they accomplish by watching the news, you’ll hear vague notions like … “I need to know what’s going on in the world,” or “We can’t just ignore these issues,” none of which answer the question.
“Being informed” sounds like an accomplishment, but it implies that any information will do. You can become informed by reading a bus schedule.
Given the content, or lack thereof, of most newscasts, that at least wouldn’t have the added disadvantage of making you misinformed.
We have inherited from somewhere—maybe from the era when there was only an hour of news available a day—the belief that having a superficial awareness of the day’s most popular issues is somehow helpful to those most affected by them… A month after you’ve quit the news, it’s hard to name anything useful that’s been lost.
And think of the opportunity cost you’ve stopped paying.
Imagine if you spent that time learning a language, or reading books and essays about some of the issues they mention on the news.
3) Most current-events-related conversations are just people talking out of their asses
“Because it helps you participate in everyday conversations!” is a weak but at least meaningful answer to the “What is accomplished” question. But when you quit playing the current events game, and observe others talking about them, you might notice that almost nobody really knows what they’re talking about.
This last is very, very true.
There is an extraordinary gulf between having a functional understanding of an issue, and the cursory glance you get from the news. If you ever come across a water-cooler conversation on a topic you happen to know a lot about, you see right through the emperor’s clothes. It’s kind of hilarious how willing people are to speak boldly on issues they’ve known about for all of three hours.
Which explains so much social media today …
4) There are much better ways to “be informed”
We all want to live in a well-informed society. The news does inform people, but I don’t think it informs people particularly well.
There are loads of sources of “information”. The back of your shampoo bottle contains information. Today there’s much more of it out there than we can ever absorb, so we have to choose what deserves our time. The news provides information in infinite volume but very limited depth.
Of often even no depth at all.
Read three books on a topic and you know more about it than 99% of the world. Watch news all day for years and you have a distant, water-cooler-level awareness of thousands of stories, at least for the few weeks each is popular.
If we only care about the breadth of information, and not the depth, there’s not much distinction between “staying informed” and staying misinformed.
“David” sounds dangerously well informed.
Many years ago a friend confided that he only reads “the stuff on the front page to see who’s killing each other” before heading straight to the back to the sports news “where all the real news is happening.” When you think about it, once all the world’s problems are solved he’d be right – but he’s not right yet.
So this isn’t an argument for disengagement from news. It’s a plea for being better informed – and less able to recognise who you bump into in Ponsonby: you can do both by avoiding the six o’clock swill.