There's a nice article over at buffer called The power of ignoring mainstream news. It make a strong case for something I've come to observe myself. I used to spend hours and hours a day with the news playing on the radio. I wanted to be informed. I wanted to be able to talk meaningfully about current events and about the important things going on in the world.
Those conversation never happened. At least they didn't happen unless I brought up a topic just show I could prove how smart I was on it. That generally doesn't go well.
A pattern also started to emerge. This was especially true of TV news. Most of the stories fell into one or more of the following categories.
- It was moderately interesting information, but I couldn't really use it (like the lives of the Pakistani brick makers.)
- It was something clearly designed to give me feels (like the plight of a woman with lupus who lived 2000 miles from me), but it wasn't something I was in any position to do anything about.
- It was something that would be obsolete in 24 hours (like the hemming and hawing around some new political appointment.)
- It's something that's supposed to make me feel a certain way, but not do anything about. I get to feel superior to the dumb criminal, or tisk at the corrupt businessman or people who made poor parenting decisions, or I get to feel warm and fuzzy about a celebrity who's a genuinely nice person.
I've come to call the last one "feels-porn." It's created and engineered solely to elicit a specific emotional response, and has no real redeeming value. If the 60 Minutes story is to be believed, Hugh Jackman is a really great guy, killer actor, with a great family and a killer workout routine, but as I'm never going to meet him, my life would have been just as complete not knowing that.
I eventually realized that I was being deluding myself. I could watch a show and feel smug about how "informed" I was, but none of that information was actually changing any of the decisions I was making in my day to day life. Worse, I was wasting a lot of time eating this information popcorn, and then worrying about things that were ultimately outside my control. There is even some evidence that the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be triggered by watching or reading stories about a traumatic event.
Worse, I was getting dumber not smarter. Crime rates are down, but you'd think there were murders every day watching the news. Well, there are murders every day, somewhere. You can rest assured that the news would reach as far afield as was necessary to ensure you get to hear about a new bloody crime every day. In other words, the amount of crime you hear about has no function with the amount that's actually going on around you. You're less informed than if you spent five minutes a year checking the annual statistics. The same can be said about any story that is considered newsworth. If it bleeds, it leads.
Now if you'll excuse me. I have 5000 pocket articles to read through. I guess I'm still learning how to do this "information diet" thing.