We don’t just consume The News, eventually The News consumes us

The News is like alcohol.

Both are drugs that give you a quick buzz but both are depressants.

Both are habit forming. Some people can do moderation but many struggle with that.

Every week I talk to intelligent people who are holding down demanding jobs and toughing it out as parents.

It’s not easy. And I haven’t met anyone in the last 5 years whose wellness / mental health was being improved by The News.

If you are a knowledge worker, your scarcest resource is headspace. If you are also a parent / husband / wife / friend, your headspace is even more limited.

Once you unplug from The Matrix, the world looks very different. You set your own priorities and you free up headspace. You see more clearly that there is hope and progress in the world.

That’s important because saving and investing for the future is an act of faith. If the world is ending, then why bother?

In the past I’ve written that No News Is Good News. That was an exaggeration of course. When I was working in corporate finance, I had to know enough about current affairs to get by. But I dialled down my news intake to the minimum amount necessary to function.

We crave new information, like we crave sugar. We evolved for an environment of scarcity and we find ourselves as hunter-gatherers plonked down in the information age where news and food are everywhere. This is why people are fat and unhappy.

Big Tech, Social Media and The News operate The Distraction Economy. The smartest people in the world figured out how to hack your psychology, curate your feed and steal ever more of your time and attention.

The News tries to make every problem in the world your problem. Civil war in Rwanda. A police shooting in Michigan. An earthquake in Haiti. What are you going to do about all that?

It is too much. We can only cope with so much misery.

2020 showed us that if you lock people in their homes for months on end, deprive them of the people they love, their basic freedoms and hook them up to The News and Social Media 24 hours a day, they go completely mental.

If your media consumption has lead you to wear Viking Horns whilst storming your government assembly, then something has gone wrong in your life. If you have made a sign swearing at a dead child, something has gone wrong in your life.

That is not activism, that is mental illness.

The News media feeds this cult-like behaviour. The media create, amplify and reinforce narratives. Ideas take hold in echo chambers. Images flash around the world in a matter of minutes, shared and forwarded. There are no cooling off periods (unless you actively restrict your screen time).

Nothing is all good or all bad. I believe in a free press. But I see it for what it is. The News Media are in the persuasion business. They have an agenda. There is no such thing as unbiased because everyone has some form of agenda. Human nature is what it is.

What the Media does not cover is as important as what they do. Slow steady progress gets ignored. Stories that don’t fit their authorised narrative get buried. The media try to enforce The Overton Window.

Every action sparks a counter-reaction. There are always unintended consequences. The growth of fringe media and conspiracy theories are reactions to the Mainstream Media attempting to control The Overton Window.

If, after 2020, anyone still can’t see how the the news media try to scare and manipulate us, I’m sorry to say that they’re probably beyond help.

For the last year or so it has felt like The Public Square is broken. Nuance has been lost. Online discussion is a poor substitute for face to face discussion. It’s only when discussing things face to face that you get the full range of vocal cues, body language and tonal emphasis. This is why I say it’s good to talk.

I can’t be sure exactly how much of The News is true or false. I try to focus on what I can control. I can’t save the world, I can only help people that want my help.

I am optimistic. This too shall pass. Once people are talking to each other again in the real world, much of the tension will evaporate. Never has it been more important to go outside and a get a life.

You are under no obligation to follow The News. It is not your duty. Save yourself first. Apply own oxygen mask before helping others.

We can choose to reduce and control our intake. We can get more of our information from primary sources. We can choose to consume less second hand information spun by corporate media and Big Tech.

Forewarned is forearmed. Don’t be the frog that gets boiled in the pan.

We don’t just consume The News, eventually The News consumes us.

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  1. John of Hampton · · Reply

    Completely agree, especially about the past year. I have not heard one report of trends in Covid, not one! I accept I am not a news junkie, but in 12 months, I would expect to have heard something about how things are going. Now, when numbers are incredibly low in the UK, the media have found something else to obsess and depress us about: the situation in India. It is not that I don’t care, but (a) I can do nothing about it and (b) I do not need to see it unfold hour-by-hour.

  2. I recently heard someone refer to The News as Panic Porn, which I found appropriate given how sensationalized and alarmist the simplest of stories become, and per the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act, The News is actually permitted to share propaganda. I just saw a study that shows that those that consume news limited to the extreme left or right develop quantifiable brain damage, as seen on brain scans. I wish more people realized that we have no obligation to keep up with The New or trust the organizations pumping out the Panic Porn.

  3. Hi Barney. Totally agree about 2020 being an eye opener on the mainstream media. I’d love it if the news channels decided to run the odd educational piece and avoid going for the sound bites, but, yeah… I’ll be waiting a while.

    My question is, do they think we don’t want to be educated and informed to a decent level, or do they not have the knowledge/experience in-house anymore to do it? (I’m thinking more the BBC, where they don’t need the advertising money – what’s their reason for following the crowd?)

    1. Hi Adam – the BBC have huge resources and could hire / buy in any knowledge gaps. But they choose not to. They do some things very well (e.g. nature documentaries). But in many areas (e.g. money & business) their coverage is woeful. Their cultural biases mean they have blind spots (e.g. Brexit). You only have to sit in the lobby at Broadcasting House to see that they live in a media bubble.

      1. Fair point! I guess they’re not short of money 🙂

  4. I call it the “Fear Machine”, people are MUCH easier to manipulate when they are fearful. Advertisers use it all the time, warning of dire negative consequences if you don’t use their goods and/or services. The news doesn’t even give you that “out” but they always reassure you that your Gov. is in control and taking the best course of action, with your interests at heart. They do not.

  5. I stopped watching and reading the news in 1994, this was due to my depression around not being able to help any of the people I saw on the news (Yugoslavian/Bosnian wars) or read about in the papers. It tortured my soul, so I gave it all up. I also stopped watching the soap operas that were on TV as they made me too sad. My life changed for the better, I became more optimistic and believe that the majority of people on the planet are fundamentally good and just trying to do their best. I now choose love.

  6. Gary Guthrie · · Reply

    Nice shot of the bike. Is that a Trek Marlin, Frensham Pond? Great spot!

    1. Yes, right both times!

  7. Conor Turton · · Reply

    One only has to look at recent events for confirmation of what the news does, how they play people and what effect it has.

    Last week was all about Boris Johnson, how he allegedly used donor money to decorate his flat at 10 Downing Street. That was being reported at every opportunity.

    Boris however being clever and knowing how the press worked knew that all he had to do is not give an answer until the weekend and then he’d be scot free because the press would move onto the next new thing they’d decided they were going to focus on. Lo and behold what has happened? The weekend came, the news media got a new toy to play with in the form of the elections and there’s not been any mention of how Boris may or may not have paid for the wallpaper in his flat.

  8. […] We don’t just consume The News, eventually The … […]

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