News media has an uncanny ability to make me lose faith in humanity. Terrorism, crime, famine, war, recession, fraud, murder, earthquake, pandemic …
If you’re like me, consuming the latest ‘breaking news’ brings more sadness than insights. More despair than outlook. And more anxiety than hope.
Emotions aside, what did the news ever make you do?
There’s a good chance your answer to that is ‘absolutely nothing’. News media is flooding you with fear and overwhelm, which is a near guarantee that you’ll remain idle in the comfort of your warm couch.
Read on to find out why you’ll be much better off emotionally and factually by quitting the news altogether.
A few confessions on my behalf
Before resuming to point fingers, I will point a big one at myself.
I stopped watching the news on tv several years ago, read almost zero news online, and only use my Facebook account for business.
But ever since I got my first smartphone, I have allowed push messages, news notifications, and useless apps steal my attention and waste countless hours with irrelevant mind candy that is less than 5 percent memorable, much less than 1 percent useful, and all 100 percent media crap.
Since early 2018, all of those distractions are practically down to zero today. How and why you ask? I started becoming conscious of the negative effects that media and news consumption had on me.
This next section might make you consider quitting the news, too.
How news media is fucking with your mind
There are several ways the news media will attract your attention. One of its favorite tricks is fear.
News media will hit your body’s main stress hormone. An old fellow named Cortisol, which is nature’s built-in alarm system.
Headlines and images are stocked with death, sensation, scandals, sickness, hunger, and other imaginary billboard-sized signs of danger that will set off your inner caveman-alert system.
As Ryan Holiday describes it, the news “is designed to exploit and antagonize us and our emotions”.
News media rarely tells you about improvement, even though there is plenty of it around. On the contrary, you get a full dose of the dangerous, the bizarre, and the corrupt.
Down the road, the longer you decide to drive Breaking News Avenue, your world view becomes increasingly more negative.
Fear of missing out
News media also knows how to target your need for social approval. Producers, editors, and journalists know that you don’t want to feel ignorant or left outside. You want to be constantly updated about what’s going on and have an opinion on recent headlines.
Everyone wants to be part of the Breaking News Elite, right?
Watching the news makes you feel like you are well-informed. In reality, you get the soupe du jour of what is momentarily popular. The product is nothing more than glib information to share at the water-cooler.
The really crazy part is that 9.5 out of 10 news segments have absolutely nothing to do with you. And you’re still duct-taped to the screen.
What does this say about us?
I believe that news consumption evolves from an irrational fear of missing out. We’re afraid that deciding not to drink from the news fire hose diminishes our relevance [ego] in upcoming social contexts. Others might have enjoyed something, or gotten some information, we missed out on. It’s that nagging feeling of trailing a few points.
But since you’re here, you’re smarter than that. You don’t just consume what is presented by the algorithm in your Facebook newsfeed. No, you think for yourself and actively search for knowledge, primarily in books written by specialists.
Want to learn history? Get a good overview with Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. Want to understand how technology is evolving? You could read The Future Is Faster Than You Think by Diamandis and Kotler. Or, if you want to be better at questioning the so-called facts on media, you’ll love the book I suggest in the next section.
Is the world really that terrible?
Go back about a century. Or maybe just rewind to your childhood. Do you think the world has declined, improved, or is it about the same?
Answer: It has never been better than right now!
According to Hans Rosling and his book, Factfulness, the world is much better than you think.
If you didn’t read Factfulness, I’ve got some great news for you:
- Poverty: 50 % were living in extreme poverty in 1950 … 9 % in 2017
- Hunger: 28 % were starving in 1970 … 11 % in 2015
- Life expectancy: in 1900 the average was 33 years, in 1973 it was 60 years, and in 2017 it had increased to 72 years.
Factfulness by Rosling points to at least 32 other areas of critical improvement. Deaths from disaster. HIV infections. Children dying before age 5. Plane crashes. Ozone depletion … Every one of these terrible categories are improving.
Although this is tempting to disregard, the evidence is rock solid. Hans Rosling’s research is based on unbiased United Nations data, which beats the crap out of any news station’s regurgitation of current affairs.
In this short clip from 2015, you will see Rosling explain why you can’t use news media to understand the world. The Danish news host is clearly caught off balance:
To me, Factfulness was an eye-opening read that replaced emotion with facts. It is liberating to see so much evidence of an improving world. These findings are in stark contrast to the constant imagery of a world falling apart that you constantly see or read about.
You come to realize that news media is overly negative and even grossly misleading.
Be critical about what you see and hear
Any situation can be both bad and improving at the same time. If you’re only looking at what’s presented to you, and its current state, you’ll most likely miss the bigger picture.
Improvements never happen overnight. Improvements move slowly and take years or even decades to come into fruition. All that matters is whether the challenges of today are moving in the right direction or not.
Another thing to be skeptical about is the so-called “gaps” in society, for example, the rising gaps between rich and poor. The thing is that most people live right in-between; they are neither rich nor poor. This majority group gets very little mention, however, because that story is just plain boring.
When you want to sell advertisement space, you know to avoid the averages and move to the extremes.
The contrarian view
So far, this has been a one-sided bashing of news media. Let’s throw in a few counterarguments to argue the opposite view of my apparently unwavering convictions.
To its credit, news media will introduce you to new information you might not have found otherwise.
Hearing and reading different viewpoints and seeing all the terrible things happening might prepare you better for the hardships of life.
Along the way, you’ll be exposed to all walks of life. From rags to royalties. And the man and woman on the street finally get their chance to be heard.
In fact, you could even raise a fist and cry ‘democracy’. Are justice and democracy even attainable without a media watchdog investigating corrupt politicians, evil dictators, and suspicious business practice?
These are all historically good arguments, but they are also idealistic arguments that I can’t buy into anymore.
Cutting the news cord does not limit your true understanding of the world. To get a functional understanding of any issue, you can’t just consume news segments and headlines. You need to study deeper and think for yourself.
What you should do right now
If any of this strikes a chord, your next move is simple:
TURN IT OFF.
And I do mean all of it.
Most people don’t have the guts to tune out of the news and say no. Instead, they allow news media to control their precious time and focus.
You might be thinking, “I’m really not watching the news on TV that much”. Well my friend, today the news is everywhere. It has overtaken social media and browser notifications. It’s on every screen you own, especially your phone. So, you’ll also need to shut off disturbing apps, alerts, and notifications.
The first few weeks might create ‘news cravings’. That’s normal. After a while, you will experience peace of mind. And you will wonder why you ever spent so much time on the news, because you realize, that you are not missing out on much.
Epilogue (with final rant)
My main problem with news media is that it has a laser-focus on what is wrong with the world. Sure, many things are not right. Climate change, overpopulation, pandemic … insert your own concern here.
To that my response is this:
What are you going to do about it?
Most of the problems and catastrophes you see, you can’t do anything about anyway. So why sit and worry? That won’t help the starving, the sick, or the polar bears.
Before you wring out a cry about my lack of compassion, please make this distinction. If you’re knee and elbow deep in humanitarian work, I’ll meet you halfway. But if all you do is bring your own bags to the supermarket, please don’t be a hypocrite. No positive thoughts have ever changed the world.
Change requires action.
So maybe you should start making a difference now? In your own life. Or to someone else.
Here is an idea to get some extra time for all that important work:
Quit the news.
Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration. That we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There is no such thing as death, life is only a dream in which we are the imagination of ourselves … Here’s Tom with the weather.Bill Hicks