Why News Is Bad For You
Well, this Rolf Dobelli essay in The Guardian, making a case for why consuming news is bad for you, will not make them happy at journalism schools around the country. I thought it would be a shallow gripe about how bad news makes us sad, but I kept reading it thinking, “Stop making sense!”, because he’s speaking to me, a news junkie, and I can see myself in what he describes. Excerpt:
News is irrelevant. Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of news is irrelevant to you. But people find it very difficult to recognise what’s relevant. It’s much easier to recognise what’s new. The relevant versus the new is the fundamental battle of the current age. Media organisations want you to believe that news offers you some sort of a competitive advantage. Many fall for that. We get anxious when we’re cut off from the flow of news. In reality, news consumption is a competitive disadvantage. The less news you consume, the bigger the advantage you have.
Information, in other words, is not power, but rather weakness, because we’re bad at sorting out the news that matters from mere information — and there’s a lot of mere information. More:
News works like a drug. As stories develop, we want to know how they continue. With hundreds of arbitrary storylines in our heads, this craving is increasingly compelling and hard to ignore. Scientists used to think that the dense connections formed among the 100 billion neurons inside our skulls were largely fixed by the time we reached adulthood. Today we know that this is not the case. Nerve cells routinely break old connections and form new ones. The more news we consume, the more we exercise the neural circuits devoted to skimming and multitasking while ignoring those used for reading deeply and thinking with profound focus. Most news consumers – even if they used to be avid book readers – have lost the ability to absorb lengthy articles or books. After four, five pages they get tired, their concentration vanishes, they become restless. It’s not because they got older or their schedules became more onerous. It’s because the physical structure of their brains has changed.
That’s so true. Absolutely true for me, and I hate it, but can’t seem to stop. I’ve always consumed lots of news, but since the Internet, it’s a total compulsion. I’ll sit in bed sometimes and pick up my laptop to check email before settling in to read before sleep, and find myself sitting there an hour later, having done nothing but browse from link to link, the book by my bedside unread. This is not good.
News kills creativity. Finally, things we already know limit our creativity. This is one reason that mathematicians, novelists, composers and entrepreneurs often produce their most creative works at a young age. Their brains enjoy a wide, uninhabited space that emboldens them to come up with and pursue novel ideas. I don’t know a single truly creative mind who is a news junkie – not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter. On the other hand, I know a bunch of viciously uncreative minds who consume news like drugs. If you want to come up with old solutions, read news. If you are looking for new solutions, don’t.
Society needs journalism – but in a different way. Investigative journalism is always relevant. We need reporting that polices our institutions and uncovers truth. But important findings don’t have to arrive in the form of news. Long journal articles and in-depth books are good, too.
I have now gone without news for four years, so I can see, feel and report the effects of this freedom first-hand: less disruption, less anxiety, deeper thinking, more time, more insights. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
Read the whole thing. What’s important to keep in mind here is that he is not saying that ignorance is bliss, but rather that the massive consumption of information harms us and our ability to thrive in a number of ways. I went into this article ready to make fun of it, and then saw myself reflected back to me in a way that I recognized, and wasn’t quite prepared for. This is pretty much my brain on news: