Reading the news isn’t a new thing. People have been reading daily or weekly newspapers since before radio, tv, or even the internet existed but with each technological advancement, the news became more available. Radio allowed for news/talk radio stations. TV allowed many to be entertained, but also to be informed with their once a day news program.
Today we have 24/7 radio and dedicated TV news channels. On the internet, you can get news from social networks, assistant/feed apps, news aggregator apps or apps from each newspaper/organisation, each one with their notifications for “breaking news”. Even many browsers now have news on their “new tab” page. It’s hard not to be up-to-date.
While I think it’s important to be aware of what’s happening around us and in the world (major events at least), I’m not sure if the average person is ready to deal with the amount of information we consume daily. Many can’t filter the content their app shows them or perform a little bit of critical thinking before taking what they read or watch as truth.
It can also be addictive. How many times have you closed the app or site where you get your news from, just to find yourself on the same app/site a few seconds or minutes later?
Then there’s what’s considered to be “news”. Maybe it’s just me, but most news aren’t really news. When I open aggregator apps like Google News, I’ll see gossip about the UK’s royal family, twisted and one sided articles from tabloids about serious matters, articles about something that happened in a place so far away that I couldn’t point to it on a map, what person X said about matter Y, right party vs left party, etc. Is this important information? I guess I should be aware about the protests in my city or political issues in my country, but should I worry or even obsess about something happening in a different place?
The way I consumed the news was having some negative side effects on me. Sometimes it was overwhelming, distracting, usually a waste of time, depressing, and energy draining. So I changed a few things.
Four years ago or so I started reducing this information overload. I removed all news apps from my phone and blocked sites I would visit a few times a day on my computer. Then I started reducing my social media consumption as they are also a source for this content. Apps that used notifications to bring me back to their app were uninstalled or had notifications disabled. The radio station I listen to did a quick news recap each hour, so I started using Spotify even more. Most video content I’d consume was already online and on demand, so there was no need to reduce TV consumption.
For the first week, I would pick my phone to check the news just to realise the app wasn’t there anymore. After a month, it was like I never used the phone to find new content… and I didn’t have the urge to install a news app again since then.
This also made me realise that I didn’t really needed social networks like Facebook, so after years of reduced usage, I ended up closing my Facebook account. I still can talk with other people (directly) but without the family/friends gossip, religious and political content, natural cures for cancer (for real), people trying to sell me something, and the filtered version of other people’s lives.
While too much information was bad for me, I don’t want to be unaware of what’s going on as that also has downsides. I started getting my news via podcasts, newsletters, and good ol’ RSS feeds.
Some news sites, radio stations or TV channels have weekly programs that talk about the major stories for that week. Sometimes these programs are made available on their sites or via podcast. Some websites also offer to send you a weekly digest via email. It’s once a week, not every day, I read/listen to it when I want, and usually the crappy, low effort content isn’t there.
If you need to visit a news website for some reason, pick sites that are less biased. Articles from some news agencies usually go straight to the point and sometimes are more neutral than sites/channels that try to please <political group>.
RSS feeds are also a good way to follow blogs, news sites or sections or sites, and other sources of information and allow me to control what information I get. I can follow the science section of a news site without reading the political stuff, for example.
Some self control is needed for this to work. If I subscribe to too many podcasts or feeds, I’ll end up in the same situation as before.
It was a good decision and it really helped improve the mental health side of things. I think it’s the main reason why I’m handling the 2020 quarantines/lockdowns so well (having something to do also helps).
I’m still able to know what’s happening even with a reduced news exposure. When something big happens, I end up learning via someone or some site where it is trending. The other stuff, it may take a few days, but it’s usually things that don’t affect me, so the delay isn’t a problem. Also, I’m not able to influence or control most events, so if something has happened or will happen, obsessing with it will only stress me out. It’s better to calm down, continue to do my things and worry about problems when and if they arise.
I don’t miss social networks like Facebook. No longer being part of the drama between family members or having to read some crap shared by someone is a good thing. Yes, there’s some content I’ll miss, but to be honest is not that important that I see all pictures of someone’s birthday or holidays. Not to mentioned that I had over 1000 “friends” at one point, but din’t talk with or even knew most of them.
I’m writing this in June 2020 and this has been an eventful year so far. Let’s just look at the major world events.
We started the year with high tensions between the US and Iran. It was going to be the start of world war 3! When I pointed that it probably wouldn’t go that far to someone that was convinced this was indeed the start of WW3, I was told that I never took these things seriously.
Then we had bush fires in Australia, stabbings, flooding and earthquakes in different countries… it hasn’t been easy. While I feel sorry for those affected, there’s nothing I can do. And I don’t learn anything extra by watching some news channel that repeats the same facts, opinions, and videos every 5 or 10 minutes.
And of course, the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus outbreak affected (and still affects) the whole world. If my memory is correct, the press only started talking about this for real by the end of January when China started their lockdowns and the World Health Organisation warned about the dangers of this new virus.
On the first week of February, after seeing some people panicking, I bought one month worth of food with a long expiring date (canned stuff, rise, pasta, etc). I didn’t know that a few weeks later the shelfs of many UK supermarkets would be mostly empty or that we would have The Great Toilet Paper Shortage, but having a small stock of essentials is always a good idea and it ended up being useful when restrictions were put in place as the number of cases and deaths increased.
In the UK, the government and their specialists started talking about herd immunity but then did a 180º turn, probably caused by the number of cases and deaths. Even the prime minister himself was infected.
The official US response was a bit disappointing. It’s just like a flu, China was good but then was bad, hydroxychloroquine was the cure, Trump saying one thing and US specialists saying something completely different… it was and is something sad to see. Avoiding social contact or wearing a mask is now a political question for many.
Some countries had almost no cases, only a sharp increase in deaths due to… pneumonia. This shows the importance of good investigative journalism which, unlike the clickbait “journalism”, looks into these things.
And let’s not forget about the conspiracies. Apparently a virus is able to spread via 5G antennas (lol). Some shady individuals even started selling expensive pen drives that allegedly protected users from the virus. Maybe “they” are spraying the virus by flying over our country?
It was sad to see what I would consider to be rational people behaving irrationally.
And then the police killed another black man in the US and protests spread across the country, with more violence from police forces, vandalism from some protestors, and politicians talking shit and showing how out of touch many of them are with reality.
After the protests, COVID-19 cases started going up again and there’s some new pig flu virus has “potential” to become a pandemic. Another thing to worry about even though it’s not a problem yet.
The point of this post
I guess I just wanted to share my experience with you. If you feel like too much information is having a negative effect on you, then try to step back. Make it hard for you to get news and use social networks. Do it for one month and see if you feel any better.
Looking at people I know and based on my own experience, it seems that all these information sources (news apps, radio, tv, social media, notifications all the time, etc), the need to filter fake news, the constant screaming match between different sides, the need to say something, etc, are making many of us unhappy, angry, and miserable.
To be clear, I’m not saying that you should bury your head in the sand and ignore all problems – being blissfully unaware of something important will also have negative effects – but dial it down a bit. People were informed before the 24 hour news cycle and you can do the same. Following events as they happen can be useful, but usually you don’t get important and accurate facts. It’s a race to be first and to have a catchy title and thumbnail so people click on their article. Making money from ad impressions is the priority for many news sites.
Social networks can be nasty too. It’s not just the occasional drama that no one needs, but some services bring out the worse in people due to anonymity (eg: twitter) or give you a censored and filtered view of someone else’s life (eg: instagram, facebook, etc). As you know, people are not always happy, traveling, looking good, and eating nice food. You may get the impression that everyone’s life is perfect and that yours sucks. That’s usually not the case.
Do something else. Pick a game and try to reach the highest level, read something, learn something new, learn the history of your country and what lead to big wars (it will help you understand better many of the problems we have today), start watching some series, get a good night of sleep, etc. I think you’ll feel better.