In the first part of this two-part series about how to escape information addiction, I wrote about why and how to leave certain social media platforms, or at least limit how often you check them for updates. Although leaving social media platforms and especially Facebook, might seem a little extreme in the eyes of many people, more and more sociologists and psychologists are suggesting that the way how a lot of us are using social media, can be problematic. And many people themselves are realizing that their social media habits are making them less productive and less happy in general.
But today’s topic is even more controversial, what I’m suggesting in this article is to stop reading news sites for good.
Hello I’m Markus and I was a news junky
Not too long ago not reading the news every day seemed like a silly idea to me. I scanned the latest headlines on my favorite news site at least every couple of hours.
I felt obliged to read articles about important political issues but even more I was addicted to read the comments beneath the articles. I wanted to know what people think about certain topics. It felt good if most of the people thought about a piece of news the same way I did and – depending on the topic – I could get really mad if some people expressed opinions that were contradictory to mine in fundamental ways.
I even thought this is what a well informed citizen and responsible voter is compelled to do – stay up to date on as many topics as possible and participate in the public discussion around them. To a certain degree this still holds true, but I don’t have to frequently scan the latest news headlines to know whats going on in the world.
You should know what is going on. You should not be completely ignorant to important political developments in your country and in the world. And you should be a responsible citizen who casts his or her vote based on his or her best knowledge about political, economical and sociological issues.
What has changed since we learned in school or from our parents that we should regularly read the news, is the constant availability and omnipresence of news. When I learned in school how to evaluate the credibility of certain newspapers and certain articles in them, we had to bring various issues of real, printed newspapers.
A printed newspaper arrives at your house at a certain time of the day. You have to go to pick it up and then you have to actually take the time to sit down and read the news. You can’t just stop doing what you’re supposed to to for a brief moment to check the latest news if all you have is a printed newspaper.
Why reading (too much) news can be harmful
The most important reason why I stopped reading online news for the most part is because it was a huge waste of my time. Reading the news was a form of procrastination which felt like doing something useful. By reading the news you can waste a ton of time without your brain noticing that what you’re doing is actually completely useless. Unlike watching TV or killing your time playing mobile games, you don’t feel guilty about it. But if you want to do something meaningful in your life you should feel guilty about wasting your time – at least if you’re doing it a lot.
But there are other reasons, why consuming newspapers at frequent intervals can be harmful. Reading about the same topics day in and day out can lead to get things out of proportion. Take the major news topic in Europe for the last couple of years: the migrant crisis. There are a lot of people who think this is affecting their life in a way so severe that it threatens the existence of European civilization as we know it while looking at it objectively, the regular citizen barely notices any of its effects in his or her daily life. While those who are really affected by it (the actual migrants) get the blame.
But there are many topics which are blown out of proportion by reading about them on a regular basis. You might think crypto currencies are disrupting the economical landscape, while in the grand scheme of things, they barely have any noticeable effect on the financial market. A few years back, the major topic in the news was the financial crisis in Greece, some news outlets made it seem like the EU was near bankruptcy. Greece is still broke, the EU is still paying billions to Greece but it got boring – much more boring than migrants coming to Europe – so the stories about the financial problems of Greece got smaller and the average citizen, who feared Greece going bankrupt would end the existence of European civilization as we know it, does not care about it anymore.
While problems which barely have any noticeable effect on our lives are often blown out of proportion by daily news coverage, other problems which actually have a huge impact on our life do not get any attention at all. Focus your energy on the things which are objectively important to you and the life of the people surrounding you. That does not mean you should not care about other people than those closest to you at all, be emphatic to everybody who is suffering and help if you can.
Stop reading (online) news and still be a well informed citizen
So what if I told you that not keeping up with the most important news is almost impossible in the modern world of constant media bombardment?
There are certain things you’ll miss if you don’t actively read online news anymore, gossip like which celebrity died or married or urinated in public – you’re way better off without knowing about those things anyway. But also there are other much more important things you’ll miss, a lot of the horrible things which happen on a regular basis on this planet. A lot of the horrible things people are doing to other people. News which are making you feel miserable about the world and the people living in it. But what good is achieved by knowing about every specific incident of the atrocious things which happen every other day? In my opinion it is important to care for your own mental health first in order to being able to care for others, only if you have a stable income you can donate money to people in need, only if your mental health is stable you can be a stable pillar in the life of others. If you’re reading about all the awful things which are happening in the world on a daily basis and you’re constantly feeling miserable about it, you’re not only affecting your own mental state in a negative way, but also you won’t be capable of doing good for other people in your life.
Most of the really important news about major incidents and political developments, are almost impossible to miss. You’ll hear about them from your colleagues at work, you’ll hear them when you’re listening to the news on the radio while you’re driving, you’ll read about certain things while you’re getting a haircut and so on and so forth.
If this is not enough to satisfy your need for news input I’ll suggest to order a weekly newspaper. Yes, a real, printed newspaper. Sit down on Sunday, relax and read it, not as a tool for procrastination but to learn more about what’s going on in the world and the most important political issues.