We’ll tell you, tonight at eight.
Except, if it really is killing my children, shouldn’t I get a news flash across my phone telling me what it is and how to get rid of it, much like an Amber Alert?
I have ignored traditional news media for years, getting most of my news from the Economist. Yes, it’s a paid subscription and an expensive one. I’m fortunate that my company is willing to reimburse me for it. Still, it’s some of the best and most in-depth analysis I’ve seen. Positions are well thought out, and their research is impeccable.
For those of you shaking your heads thinking it’s an ultra-conservative news outlet, you may be surprised at how liberal many of their social views are. Why? Because allowing things like gay marriage, religious tolerance, and immigration are actually good for the economy.
Remember who is writing it.
They care about making economies prosper and the generation of wealth. In a recent piece, they actually call for allowing people age 16 and older to vote rather than 18. Why? Because we need to teach this habit like any other. And people must vote or you undermine the very concept of democracy. It’s an interesting article. I recommend it.
As I’ve been entering the social media sphere because authors “must”, I started getting caught in the news cycle. The drama. The “end-of-the-world” mongering.
I decided to stop following people on Twitter or Facebook that post a lot of “news”. I stopped clicking on any and all links to news articles. I stopped looking at anything that remotely resembled click-bait.
Yes, I know a lot of things are going on right now, bad things, but the constant stress was making me crabby and interfering with my sleep.
If you’re rolling your eyes and thinking I’m a snowflake, here are six reasons why research says you should consider changing your news consumption habits.
1. It’s Here to Make Money, Not Inform
With the wave of “fake” news lately, this hardly needs explanation. But we need to remember that news doesn’t usually cover what’s important anyway. They’re looking for the “human” element, the element that sucks you in and gets you to keep watching or clicking.
If it bleeds it leads.
If a building burns to the ground, what do you think the media is going to focus on? The building. The people in the building. Injuries. Fatalities. All of which is relatively inexpensive to produce. They don’t actually have to dig to get to the guts of the story. Do they ever tell you why the building burned? Changes to the fire code that should be enacted to save those lives?
No, because those don’t get clicks.
Because of this emphasis on the dramatic, we focus on the wrong things, and those things are then overblown in our minds. We all fear terrorism, but no one thinks too much about chronic stress. Total US deaths, worldwide, due to terrorism from 2004-2014 was 112. Think about that for a moment. 112 people in ten years. That’s 11.2 people, on average, per year.
How much news did it get?
But how many people die each year of heart attack? Stroke? Cancer? Yet, how much emphasis has any of this gotten?
So why don’t we hear more about this? Reducing stress is something we might actually have control over, and it can have a direct impact on our lives. Imagine if reducing stress could reduce the number of people with heart disease or cancer by 10% or even 1%.
The news doesn’t cover this because it doesn’t get clicks.
News is a for-profit organization. They are not here to inform. They are here to make money.
2. Doesn’t Really Matter to You
How many news stories have you watched or read in the last year? The last month? What did you do because you read or watched it? What decision did it help you to make, particularly about anything of consequence? Did you become a better parent? A better spouse? Did you make a serious financial decision? Do something to improve your career?
I ask this is all seriousness. If it is meant to inform you, it should be doing so in a meaningful way. We’ve already established that it’s not really informing you. Rather, it’s telling you things to get you to tune in, and we should be challenging the value of tuning in.
I can honestly say consuming news did little to engender action from me. News stories didn’t even help me make a decision on the candidates I voted for. I got that from their stated positions on their websites.
3. Teaches You Not to Think Too Hard
This article really says it all. News programming is designed to make you think you’re seeing both sides of a story and getting the low-down, but you’re not. Most of what we get are news bites, little pieces of information meant to fit into an allotted amount of time. Deep, complex subjects require time to digest. Truly difficult concepts can’t be understood in the five minutes of time they get.
We’ve all heard “climate change”, but how many of us have actually taken the time to understand what it is and why it’s happening? What are the macro effects? What does it truly mean to the planet and to us? (Give you a hint, the planet doesn’t care. It’s already survived numerous mass extinctions.) What are we really sacrificing by not dealing with it, and what would it really take to reverse it?
You see this superficiality with a lot of “news” reports. They are interested in giving you bite-sized pieces, but nothing too meaty. They don’t make money informing, remember? They make money on you tuning in or clicking.
Yet, without this deeper level of understanding, you lose sight of the bigger picture. Events become singular and contained instead of part of the broader view. Hard to make truly informed decisions when you see a very small piece of the whole issue.
4. Seek Conforming Opinions
With the sheer volume of news out there, we no longer have to expose ourselves to ideas that don’t conform to ours. If we don’t want to believe in climate change, we can find plenty of articles denying it to fill our screen.
As Warren Buffet said, “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.”
If this is true, then we’re really not seeking information or enlightenment. We simply want to be told that everyone already agrees with us. That we’re right. That’s called confirmation bias, and it’s very detrimental.
It means you never hear the other side, you never have the chance to understand their way of thinking. You can’t find a compromise because why would you compromise when “everyone agrees with you?”
But what if you’re wrong? Even Albert Einstein was wrong on occasion.
5. Induces Stress
News, particularly what’s splashed across our networks, triggers our fight or flight response. The same stories that tend to get clicks, tend to activate this center.
When you hear about a family dying in a fire, you have a very different reaction than if you’re hearing about alternate routes to avoid a fire. That’s why so many of us felt panicked and twitchy after all of the 9/11 stories, particularly as we watched people, human beings, plummet from those upper stories.
That’s one image I will never, ever forget.
The “human” side of these stories release glucocorticoid which has a whole slew of effects on your body. It’s the fight or flight response. And what does this constant fight or flight response bring? Remember that stress we were talking about and how we know it contributes to heart disease, stroke and cancer? Yeah, that.
It’s like being constantly told there’s a monster under your bed, and knowing there is nothing you can do about it.
6. Crushes Creativity
I’m not sure if news in general does this, or just bad news. I won’t say this is an unbiased or researched article, because I couldn’t find any with hard facts, but it states what I’ve seen myself.
The more news I consume, the less creative I am. Or, perhaps, the less time I have for creativity.
Not sure, but I do know that switching off the news, even for a week, made it much easier to work on my novel. I completed as much in a week with it off as I had in three with it on. I felt more relaxed, more able to focus, and able to bring more of myself to my writing.
Not sure, but I figure the reduced fight-or-flight response is part of it. As is not allowing the news to snatch at my already divided attention. Of course, tuning out the world burning may not be ideal, but there is very little I, personally, can do for the suffering people in Syria other than donate to the White Hats.
Yet, despite the stress, lost creativity, and lack of information, we keep coming back to the news. Makes me think they’re in the same camp as social media. They’ve figured out how our brains work and how to keep us coming back for more. How to suck our precious time from us for profit.
I, for one, am done.
I will continue to read the Economist, and I will never know what household item is slowly killing my children until they send me an Amber Alert to my phone.
How about you? Do you watch the news? Do you get anything out of it? Does it inform your decisions? Has it ever affected your sleep or given you nightmares?