I quit. I feel great. You can too.
There ought to be a distinction made between (inter)national and local news. I am a former journalist at a tiny-town paper, where nobody would know who was running for office or how to hold school administers accountable if we had not existed. Unfortunately, these local papers are the first to go out of business, leaving communities further disengaged and uninformed. Local news is a critical fabric of fading civic life.
One trouble is the news has gone to pot. I have considered doing "news reviews," but that may just add to the problem. The news is trying to sell you something. For example, CNN employees have said a daily Covid death tally was good for ratings. They were not trying to inform you; they were trying to sell product.
I am also trying to sell product. Check out igreviews.substack.com
Extremely good point. On September 11th 2001, I was a very busy mom of a 6 month old baby and 2 year old, at home on mat leave (sorry, Americans), and was very busy momming. It was early evening when a friend called me, and hearing my cheerful 'oh hi, Elisa!' said 'you haven't heard, have you?'
I then turned on the radio, because I didn't own a TV, still don't. Which means I didn't experience half as much 2ary trauma as did the people I know who watched this tragedy play out all day, on repeat, and saw images they will never be able to remove from their brains.
Did my not 'witnessing' this make a difference to the world, and did everyone else I know witnessing it on TV make a difference? Neither did. Did it make a difference to me and my kids that I wasn't 'up to date' at all moments? Absolutely.
With my patients (I'm as psychologist) I use the suggestion of 'harm reduction' - as we do for alcoholics and heroin users who really really can't quit. Perhaps have a 15 minute period once a day to 'catch up', but no more, and only 15 minutes more to have the 'isn't it terrible?' convos with other people. Then try to move that to every second day .....
I also suggest some form of personal activism or effective altruism, so that people know they are actually doing something about the terrible stuff, as well as the way the live their own lives, do their own work, raise their own kids, spend their own money etc.
Since dried leaves were stuck in the first pipe and lit on fire, smoking was an unhealthy (and disgusting) activity. The "news", though, once offered more substance than clickbait drivel. It was easy(-ish) to know which newspapers were yellow tabloid rags and which had actual investigative journalism. The modern news outlets still ride that legacy memory and thus our confusion at the idea of excising it from our lives.
From your description of your news consumption, you just didn't just "smoke", you were a "three pack a day of unfiltereds chain smoker". No wonder you feel better for going cold turkey. But you mention your being informed by a Twitter post. To me, that means you've given up smoking for chewing tobacco. Twitter...talk about dunking your head in sewage!
Your core premise is not wrong. I only read the headlines of a subscribed email of world-national news in the morning. It's dour and no fun, but I reckon I need to keep aware if something slightly less extreme than a nuclear war is announced. Some unexpected events do require one's attention, even if they are a total bummer, dude.
I quit in January of 2021, after spending a year keeping almost daily track of covid case loads (to what end? I wasn’t going to change my behavior any further).
I started religiously reading the news after Trump was elected, thinking I could make sense of a world I clearly didn’t understand. Took me a long time to figure out that basically no one else had a fukkin clue either.
I quit watching and listening to the news about a year ago, and got rid of the news apps on my phone. I feel much better for it. I do read a paper of record, dead tree edition, on a Saturday. And of course there are other sources, including conversation. But really there's enough happening out there that continuous consumption of noxious events you can't control is really not a good idea (the classic definition of a stressor). Baumeister's 'bad is stronger than good' is really prescient. Enough is enough, thanks.
Adam, thank you for this. You've clarified and supported so many important issues here. Your work encouraged me to write my own contribution dealing with this subject and the overarching theme of systemic pessimism that pervades so much of what we hear and read.
"Celebrating our Species Progress"
Love it. I read the news, but am careful never to read it on the day of. (I just told a news app on my phone to stop sending me notifications.) In some cases, I read it months later--there's a stack of news magazines on my table that I work my way down, in strict chronological order, and I tend to be two to 12 weeks behind. Perfect. Easy to ignore the stuff that was trivial to begin with--it doesn't age well. The more consequential stuff actually gains a sort of 3D effect as I view what they said about it then from the vantage point of what I know about it now (from conversations or headlines seen in passing). It's hard to feel bloodthirsty about old news. Sad, yes, but not homicidal--maybe the urgency added by the sense of immediacy is required for that. And yes, the important stuff got through to me when I needed it. But presumably that's because there was a news outlet other people learned it from. What's the best way to ensure those outlets still provide what we actually should know about, without fracturing us and feeding us crud that clogs up our brains and feelings? The main times I find I really do need to know something are when people around me are distressed. For instance, knowing of Kobe Bryant's death the day the news broke was crucial to knowing why a 3rd grader I tutored was in tears, and to being able to empathize with him. Any news, local or national, that's likely to be disturbing my students is something I need to have a handle on. Otherwise, your smoking analogy works for me.
I like this article. The internet is a great source (much like libraries) to keep us knowledgeable. You can search for information you are curious about and learn. You don't need a daily news feed. When I was in high-school I remember reading that the Press is one of the major pillars of democracy, which keeps you informed. But I can see that has changed. But the newspapers do carry some good content under their non-news sections, which I still like to read once in a while.
Truly excellent articulation of what I've been feeling for some time. I've been working on blocking out the noise and as you say, it isn't easy but is worth it. Thanks for writing this, I've forward it it on many times like an irritating evangelist.
I had a really stupid argument in support of my old news consumption habit. It went, roughly, *as long as you know about the Bad People doing Bad Things, they aren’t totally getting away with it*.
Like all addictions it needed rationalising.
I couldn't agree more. I gave up reading the news many years ago and have been happier for it. For similar reasons I gave up Facebook, and have never looked back. Every now & then I miss out on something but mostly I miss out on petty partisan arguments over dumb things people won't care about 6 minutes later.
Oh my, yes yes yes! This was just wonderful. The news is addictive... getting you to come back every day for your dose, by generating fear. Here's this new thing to be afraid of, and come back here tomorrow and we'll tell you more about how scary it is. I gave up my addiction a few years ago and am much happier.
Love it 😍
Nice. I read this along with your hedonic treadmill post. How do we break ourselves from the dopamine-reward crack pipe of the internet? Interesting that you focus on “news” vs. “social media”.
You point out we can’t actually do anything about most of the news— outrage with no outlet. So much news is national/global and remote from our immediate, local, experience. Perhaps focusing on actionable news is a compromise. Certainly wouldn’t hurt for people to get more involved in local politics and organizing.
I found this essay very persuasive. However, will this work for a Too Online conservative? As the US becomes more left-liberal, it would be easy to ignore the news as a liberal and feel perfectly happy with how things are going. But I encounter stuff in my everyday life that seems insane and I'm trying to find out if other people also think it's crazy.
Imagine u aren't Christian, and suddenly everyone at work started putting Bible passages in their emails and then u got an email guide about putting bible passages in your email and then u went to a training about how *not* putting Bible passages in your email could be seen as religious bigotry etc etc. Wouldn't you want to find other people who also thought this was strange??
Just curious if this also works for conservatives who live/work in white collar PMC type settings.