3 Benefits of Not Following The News

Back when I was still working in an airport, my colleagues would turn on the TV in the staff room to watch royal weddings, sports, reality shows, commercials, and of course, the news. At times I would actively seek away from it, as if it were some contagious disease. I would usually find somewhere else to sit or use my headphones to listen to music until they had left and I could either switch it off or over to something more educational.

I sporadically read thorough explanations, debates or unorthodox opinions on an important issue, but general news, gossip, announcements and even most mainstream political debate never caught my interest.

There was a drawback to this aversion: Since everybody else seemed to be up to date on the news, I felt ignorant in comparison. Like I ought to know more. And since they are so easy to access on all our devices, I had no good excuse for not being updated on the news.

But do you know that feeling when you discover that someone has expressed a notion that you couldn’t quite articulate yourself? Something that you subconsciously understood but could only fully embrace once someone else had spelled it out?

That’s how I felt when I read Thoreau’s 1854 essay “Walden”, in which he said:

“… And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter,–we never need read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad of instances and applications? …

When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence,–that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of reality. … Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion and appearance, … through church and state, through poetry and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake.

sandy feet

Suddenly I understood my own aversion to news. I saw that it was not unreasonable; that it was in fact rather sensible. I wouldn’t say that I made a principle out of avoiding news at all costs, but it was easier for me to guiltlessly give away my TV, unsubscribe from newsletters, and even install an app that eradicates my Facebook news feed.

You May Feel Ignorant

I would never deny that averting general news has its downsides. You are less informed about the state of the world than you could be, and therefore your decisions will also be a little less informed.

On the other hand, news are never neutral. Journalists and the media often try to present news as separate and unrelated events, or they provide such an unnuanced view of a given situation that you are left with a very different impression than if they had taken the time (or effort) to thoroughly explain it. This quote, possibly by Mark Twain, sums it up very well: “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed”.

With that out of the way, let’s consider the advantages of averting mainstream news.

1. Less Tumult, More Energy

Firstly, you will be less inclined to depressing thoughts and have more productive energy. Constantly being reminded how grim and awful state the world is in can send us down spirals of negative thinking, leading to feelings of hopelessness and frustration. We know we individually cannot do much about, say, a war, but in spite of that (or because of that) hearing about the war over and over can still bring us down. By now, we (ought to) know enough about the state of the world to develop and express our opinions, to be aware of the opinions of others, and to get involved and help.

Let’s take an example. Learning that there are even more refugees than before does not change much for me. I periodically donate the clothes I don’t use, I donate the money I can spare, I greet refugees as nicely and welcoming as I can, and I have the same view on immigration politics as before. Clicking “Like” on a Facebook story about it will not help anyone. Watching the news in itself doesn’t do any good unless it is followed by action.

likes

Another example. Learning that yet another family died in a car crash will not alter my habits. I will still not drink before getting behind the wheel, I will still always wear my seatbelt, I will still follow traffic regulations and use common sense when driving.

Neither instances are really educational or relevant for my conduct of life, for my opinion or my capabilities. Both stories are, however, very sad. I am not avoiding them because I am apathetic; I avoid them precisely because I am too empathetic and end up feeling terrible about other people’s misery. While I believe our capacity for empathy is of utmost importance and a trait worth cultivating, incessant grievance and sadness for others, and endless internet debates about politics that rarely lead anywhere, drain me of optimism to the point where I have less energy to do anything useful for the world.

By avoiding such “news”, which are just reiterations of familiar principles, I have a greater surplus of energy and optimism that I can use in the service of others. I’m quite confident it can do the same to you.

2. More time

Society moves really fast. Slowing down and not indulging in your urge to stay updated can create a space in your daily life for better things. It gives you time you could spend on better things. You could try to make a difference by doing volunteer work and helping out with one of the many problems the news reminds us of. Or you could simply do something that makes you happy, like cooking a healthy meal or picking up a book.

reading

Books provide a beautiful and much needed contrast to the shallow and often meaningless reporting in mainstream news. Again quoting Thoreau, he pointed out:

“There are probably words addressed to our condition exactly, which, if we could really hear and understand, would be more salutary than the morning or the spring to our lives, and possibly put a new aspect on the face of things for us. […] How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book. The book exists for us perchance which will explain our miracles and reveal new ones. The present unutterable thing we may find somewhere uttered. The same questions that disturb and puzzle and confound us have in their turn occurred to all the wise men; not one has been omitted, and each has answered them, according to his ability, by his words and his life.

3. A Reality Check

Social media are often used to present one’s life as glamorous, wonderful, and exciting. We use it to display all our successes and accomplishments, our adventures, our latest purchase, our party clothes, how insightful or caring we are, and all other virtues when we occasionally exhibit them.

As we check out Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat feeds, we tend to forget that these same people, who would like to make you believe that their lives are near perfect, also have all kinds of problems. Maybe the bank account is low after that purchase, maybe they vomit and waste an entire day due to hangovers after that exclusive party, maybe they are posting all those selfies because they are very insecure, maybe they had to work at a boring job for months to afford that holiday.

Living without the one-sided pseudo-reality relayed via the news and social media, but rather judging reality from real interactions with people as I meet them, I feel better about my own life, because I see that we are all experiencing ups and downs, almost perpetually. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. I don’t need others to post gym-selfies or personal records to motivate me to work out. I don’t need to see party pictures to get in a social mood and feel an urge to meet people.

I know many people try living without their phones for a day, or without Facebook for a week. Try living without the news for a month, and see how it feels.

9 Comments

  1. I’ve been using the FaceBook newsfeed eradicator for over half a year now – I love it 🙂

    I liked the Thoreau and Twain quotes you added, really good for having a deep moment.

    • Indeed it’s a great little tweak to Facebook. Very glad you like the article!

  2. Hey, thanks for this article. I always feel that I need to be up to date about everything. But I also felt that it is not good for me to read intake so many information, same with Facebook. I consider getting this app now. 😉

  3. Hi Peter, I am so glad for you that you have finally realeased your project here. 🙂 However this is something I actually don’t agree on. While I agree that social media is bad in bigger dosis (I try not to use too much time there and right now I am not even online on Facebook everyday), I really think it is important to keep on track with the news. If you don’t like watching the news, that’s great there are other medias the news papers or radio if you prefer not to watch graphical images. Maybe you are not into mainstram media either, that’s fine, then just find a smaller media you trust. And why do I think this? Because I think it is highly privileges to be able to turn off media because “the state of the world makes me feel bad”. Perhaps you feel bad, but think about the people whom is actually suffering from war etc. Like you mention the refugees. No, reading news papers won’t help refugees, but don’t you think you ought to know, as a person in a privileged position, what our state is doing to these people? Or knowing how the state is screwing over the working class? Everyday people are getting hurt by the system and I think we have the plight to listen to their stories and help them. You talk about how time could be spend on being happy or reading books – how about spending that extra time actually helping refugees? 🙂

    Don’t get me wrong – I think mainstream media can be manipulative as s**t. But we really ought to follow what is going on to the people not as fortunate as us or people who are way more oppressed than us. Otherwise we will just be going around in our own mind, reading books, at actually not show solidarity with the people who need it the most.

    And meh, my English cannot compeed with yours. Haha.

    • I suppose it’s my mistake that I didn’t explain in the article that I didn’t mean cutting off all news entirely forever. I still check them every now and then to get the headlines, my friends keep me updated, and just having conversations with people keeps me in the loop of the bigger picture. So I agree it’s important to keep track of the state of the world, but to a much lesser extent than what most people do. I also agree with you that it’s a privilege to be able to turn them off. It may sound weak to say that one simply does so because it makes one feel bad.

      But I don’t think it’s a bad reason. As a vegan, do you always check up on the latest cases of animal abuse and agricultural destruction? Or do you find yourself wanting to distance yourself from it because you have found your principles, and more information about animal suffering won’t change your actions? At least that is how I feel. 🙂

    • And certainly, time spent not watching the news could be spent helping refugees. But so could the time when one -is- watching the news. The point is that watching the news does nothing good in itself – so if you aren’t helping them by watching the news, you may as well do something else. That could be something that doesn’t help them either, but something that you enjoy – like reading a book – or it could, as you suggest, be something that helps them out. In either case, just watching the news for its own sake doesn’t make much of a difference in my view.

      • No, as a vegan I safe myself from graphical images. But let’s say the government made new laws, like made it legal two have pigs in gestation crates up twice as long as now, I would read an article about it, and I would want to know this so I can protest.

        One difference is also that what is happening to animals never really changes. I have been an animal rights activist for 7,5 years and yes many things has got better, but the story is still the same; cruelty and death. But for refugees it is not the same. Actually a lot of things are happening in Europe right now. The right wing is rising and everyday governments just get more and more brutal and inhumane. And maybe all wars look the same for us privileged people – but it is quite important to know if our tax money is going to fund another war in a new country.
        I guess it is important to follow news – so you know when to protest and where to make differences.

  4. Awesome writing my man! it’s nice to hear that i am not the only one who tries stay away from the news and such…. The world might seem shit, but in reality it’s only a small percentage that actually is bad.

    • Indeed. It seems to be a polarizing topic, people have either strongly agreed or strongly disagreed. Glad it helped you!

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