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Five Things You Notice When You Quit the News

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I grew up believing that following the news makes you a better citizen. Eight years after having quit, that idea now seems ridiculous—that consuming a particularly unimaginative information product on a daily basis somehow makes you thoughtful and informed in a way that benefits society.

But I still encounter people who balk at the possibility of a smart, engaged adult quitting the daily news.

To be clear, I’m mostly talking about following TV and internet newscasts here. This post isn’t an indictment of journalism as a whole. There’s a big difference between watching a half hour of CNN’s refugee crisis coverage (not that they cover it anymore) versus spending that time reading a 5,000-word article on the same topic.

If you quit, even for just a month or so, the news-watching habit might start to look quite ugly and unnecessary to you, not unlike how a smoker only notices how bad tobacco makes things smell once he stops lighting up.

A few things you might notice, if you take a break: 

1) You feel better

A common symptom of quitting the news is an improvement in mood. News junkies will say it’s because you’ve stuck your head in the sand.

But that assumes the news is the equivalent of having your head out in the fresh, clear air. They don’t realize that what you can glean about the world from the news isn’t even close to a representative sample of what is happening in the world.

The news isn’t interested in creating an accurate sample. They select for what’s 1) unusual, 2) awful, and 3) probably going to be popular. So the idea that you can get a meaningful sense of the “state of the world” by watching the news is absurd.

Their selections exploit our negativity bias. We’ve evolved to pay more attention to what’s scary and infuriating, but that doesn’t mean every instance of fear or anger is useful. Once you’ve quit watching, it becomes obvious that it is a primary aim of news reports—not an incidental side-effect—to agitate and dismay the viewer.

What appears on the news is not “The conscientious person’s portfolio of concerns”. What appears is whatever sells, and what sells is fear, and contempt for other groups of people.

Curate your own portfolio. You can get better information about the world from deeper sources, who took more than a half-day to put it together.

2) You were never actually accomplishing anything by watching the news

If you ask someone what they accomplish by watching the news, you’ll hear vague notions like, “It’s our civic duty to stay informed!” or “I need to know what’s going on in the world,” or “We can’t just ignore these issues,” none of which answer the question.

“Being informed” sounds like an accomplishment, but it implies that any information will do. You can become informed by reading a bus schedule.

A month after you’ve quit the news, it’s hard to name anything useful that’s been lost. It becomes clear that those years of news-watching amounted to virtually nothing in terms of improvement to your quality of life, lasting knowledge, or your ability to help others. And that’s to say nothing of the opportunity cost. Imagine if you spent that time learning a language, or reading books and essays about some of the issues they mention on the news.

You’ll find that your abstinence did not result in any worse cabinet appointments than were already being made, and that disaster relief efforts carried on without your involvement, just as they always do. As it turns out, your hobby of monitoring the “state of the world” did not actually affect the world.

We have inherited from somewhere—maybe from the era when there was only an hour of news available a day—the belief that having a superficial awareness of the day’s most popular issues is somehow helpful to those most affected by them.

3) Most current-events-related conversations are just people talking out of their asses

“Because it helps you participate in everyday conversations!” is a weak but at least meaningful answer to the “What is accomplished” question. But when you quit playing the current events game, and observe others talking about them, you might notice that almost nobody really knows what they’re talking about.

There is an extraordinary gulf between having a functional understanding of an issue, and the cursory glance you get from the news. If you ever come across a water-cooler conversation on a topic you happen to know a lot about, you see right through the emperor’s clothes. It’s kind of hilarious how willing people are to speak boldly on issues they’ve known about for all of three hours.

It feels good to make cutting remarks and take hard stands, even when we’re wrong, and the news gives us perfect fodder for that. The less you know about an issue, the easier it is to make bold proclamations about it, because at newscast-distance it still looks black and white enough that you can feel certain about what needs to happen next.

Maybe the last thing the world needs is another debate on Issue X between two people who learned about it from a newscast—at least if we’re trying to improve relationships between people from different groups.

4) There are much better ways to “be informed”

We all want to live in a well-informed society. The news does inform people, but I don’t think it informs people particularly well.

There are loads of sources of “information”. The back of your shampoo bottle contains information. Today there’s much more of it out there than we can ever absorb, so we have to choose what deserves our time. The news provides information in infinite volume but very limited depth, and it’s clearly meant to agitate us more than educate us.

Every minute spent watching news is a minute you are unavailable for learning about the world in other ways. Americans probably watch a hundred million hours of news coverage every day. That’s a lot of unread books, for one thing.

Read three books on a topic and you know more about it than 99% of the world. Watch news all day for years and you have a distant, water-cooler-level awareness of thousands of stories, at least for the few weeks each is popular.

If we only care about the breadth of information, and not the depth, there’s not much distinction between “staying informed” and staying misinformed.

5) “Being concerned” makes us feel like we’re doing something when we’re not

News is all about injustice and catastrophe, and naturally we feel uncomfortable ignoring stories in which people are being hurt. As superficial as TV newscasts can be, the issues reported in them are (usually) real. Much more real than they can ever seem through a television. People are suffering and dying, all the time, and to ignore a depiction of any of that suffering, even a cynical and manipulative depiction, makes us feel guilty.

The least we can do is not ignore it, we think. So we watch it on TV, with wet eyes and lumps in our throats. But staying at this level of “concerned” isn’t really helping anyone, except maybe to alleviate our own guilt a bit.

And I wonder if there’s a kind of “substitution effect” at work here. The sense of “at least I care” may actually prevent us from doing something concrete to help, because by watching sympathetically we don’t quite have to confront the reality that we’re doing absolutely nothing about it.

Watching disasters unfold, even while we do nothing, at least feels a little more compassionate than switching off. The truth is that the vast majority of us will provide absolutely no help to the victims of almost all of the atrocities that happen in this world, televised or not. And that’s hard to accept. But if we can at least show concern, even to ourselves, we don’t quite have accept that. We can remain uninvolved without feeling uninvolved.

This may be the biggest reason we fear turning off the news. And it might be the best reason to do it.

Have you quit the news? What did you notice?

***

Image by Mike Licht

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Arthur Guerrero December 5, 2016 at 12:17 am

This is so true, I haven’t followed the news on TV for a while now and I really haven’t missed it. It’s just Negativity and people taking out of their asses.

Same goes for sports news. I’m a huge NBA fan but Everytime I try to give a radio sports station a listen, I can’t help but notice how negative the hosts are about everything. Somehow they always know more than coaches and players. They’re always complaining too haha.

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 9:05 am

Sports is an interesting case, because it’s a completely made-up world. But there is a lot of money and emotional energy invested in it. I’m a big NFL fan but I never really want to hear anybody’s commentary on it. After all this time, nobody can predict outcomes anyway.

LeAnn December 5, 2016 at 12:24 am

This is exactly my experience. Years ago, I spent a lot of time “informing” myself…right into a big ball of stress and anxiety. Decided to start avoiding political news (as much as possible anyway) a few years ago and it did my stress levels a world of good. The sensationalism of the news media leads to a false impression of the world. There’s nothing but gloom and doom on the news channels, but look out the window and what you see rarely reflects what is portrayed on the news. We should be more concerned with our immediate surroundings and real people in our lives and should be less preoccupied with false dramas, like political theatre.

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 9:08 am

It is a kind of theatre, isn’t it. It is (usually) based on real events, but serves mostly as a kind of entertainment because we generally don’t act on what we see depicted in the news. There is a ton going on in our immediate surroundings, tons of opportunities to learn and help people.

Zoe December 5, 2016 at 2:16 am

I’ve never really followed the news. It does make me feel out-of-touch sometimes, but I usually end up hearing about any major developments anyway. I found it much more interesting and informative (and helpful) to actually go to a refugee centre and help out, rather than read about it online. I still don’t feel like I understand all of it, but I do have a better sense of the complexity of this particular issue.

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 9:10 am

That’s another point I was originally going to include: we hear about the big things anyway.

That occasional out-of-touch feeling is probably inevitable, but it’s just being out of touch with the pop culture trend of watching a show made of tiny bits of story about various issues.

Dave Hughes December 5, 2016 at 2:41 am

Your article couldn’t have come at a better time. I really need to quit the “news.” For the past year and a half I allowed myself to get sucked into the presidential campaign in the U.S., and now I can’t believe all the hours and emotional energy I wasted.

The real problem, as you stated, is that most of it isn’t even good, unbiased, well-researched and fact-checked journalism – it’s sensationalism and entertainment, and it’s very negative.

Thanks for another thought-provoking article!

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 9:11 am

Glad you’re seeing the light Dave! Give yourself the gift of a month off and see what happens.

Christy December 5, 2016 at 3:06 pm

Completely agree Dave. So much emotional energy wasted.

Christy December 5, 2016 at 5:35 pm

Mr. Hughes, did you attend Colorado College?

Max December 5, 2016 at 2:49 am

Thanks for writing. I actually entered into the opposite experiment about a year ago — one in which I actively attempted to “become informed” by reading/watching world news sources. I hadn’t paid all that much attention to such events prior to that, and diving into such an endeavor was a strange experience. Sensory overload, fear (sometimes masked but often frank) at every turn, repetition, minutiae… All delivered in rapid fashion and as you said only “newsworthy” for a couple of weeks. As if a few hours of coverage would simply fix the refugee crisis after having informed the public about its existence.
It was challenging, and I did learn a great many new facts; but they were arbitrary and near useless in the grander scheme of life. Little tidbits of superficial knowledge to insert into daily conversations and then…nothing. No follow through or profundity of discourse ensued. Because the other participants were working with the same tidbits and factoids.
I attempted again to re-enter the news stream just prior to the recent US elections and was, again, baffled and overwhelmed and utterly frustrated. More fear and ignorance masquerading as confident assertions and bold stances. And copious superfluous mindless drivel consumed ad nauseam.

Giving it up allows for engagement today, now, here. It makes space for actual actions and thought experiments and legitimate discourse and discussion. It allows for the experience of the present.

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 9:16 am

Thanks for this perspective Max. And I think being informed is a good thing, I just think the news is a crappy way to gather usable information. It makes a lot more sense to go deeper rather than broader. Read books and longer articles to get a more meaningful view of fewer topics.

Christy December 5, 2016 at 11:32 am

Could not have been expressed more succinctly. I “quit” the news nearly 23 years ago. I couldn’t take how the negativity was effecting my life. I get what I require with an occasional glimpse at news sources. Being in touch on a daily basis, leads to overload and depression, there is precious little you can do about all the bad things going on in the world. This article is incredibly well thought out and well written. Thank you.

David December 5, 2016 at 2:57 am

Great article David, and how timely it is.

I agree with “The less you know about an issue, the easier it is to make bold proclamations about it”. I feel like the more I read about an issue the less clear the truth becomes, so gathering more information doesn’t even necessarily help me.

This all reminds me of the New Yorker cartoon where the caption is simply: “My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to stay sane”.

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 9:18 am

Every issue does seem to get greyer and more complex the more you learn about it, which should teach us something.

DiscoveredJoys December 5, 2016 at 3:07 am

I gave up watching TV or reading newspapers some time ago. I realised that most ‘news’ is now gossip wrapped up adversarial opinion and often factually incorrect or misleading. Who would voluntarily go out into the village square and seek out the village gossip and listen from first thing in the morning until late at night? Especially if you realised that the baker or butcher were paying the gossip to promote their wares?

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 9:20 am

Right… I’m reading Sapiens by Yuval Harari right now, and he says that we’ve evolved to find gossip pleasurable, because back when we lived in small bands it would be advantageous to know who is sleeping with who and who’s not speaking to who. But now that we don’t even know our neighbors, delighting in finding “dirt” on people has just become a kind of masturbation.

wrkrb December 7, 2016 at 5:02 pm

! I must read this book ! That explains so much.

Anne December 5, 2016 at 3:22 am

A timely article. Thank you. I’ve just been on a 9-day retreat during which I didn’t see or hear any news. The effect on my well-being was tremendous: I realised just how much monitoring news events through the day, even on the more reliable media, was dragging me down and increasing my anxiety. I gave up TV news some years ago: an assault on the senses, biased, trivialising and selective. Now I’m minimising the time spent reading online news. I used to read the newspaper while I had my breakfast: this morning I read your article instead! The day gets off to a much more peaceful but energising start if I read something thought-provoking and/or enjoyable or just focus on what I’m eating.

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 9:21 am

I’m glad I could be a part of your healthy start to the morning! Even my rants :)

Geri December 5, 2016 at 3:23 am

I very rarely watch the news…it might be on in the background if somebody else is watching it…I would like to be able to switch off the trending news stories on Facebook/Twitter as it catches me out from time to time….do I miss it when I don’t see it?? Absolutely not….:-)

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 9:24 am

I wish I could do that too. Twitter is especially rife with news these days, and almost none of these people will be talking about the same issues in six months.

Naomi Alexander December 5, 2016 at 4:06 am

Hi David, I get my news from Russell Brand’s Trews (True News) which has the advantage of some humour injected into even the most serious issues. Stops me from feeling so powerless and dejected about everything. Maybe you’d like it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDsWemk16D0&feature=youtu.be

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 9:26 am

Humor is a really good way of responding to grim stories. Humans have made good use of it as a tool for coping with and gaining perspective about violence and evil. Kurt Vonnegut’s writing is all humor on the surface, and almost all of it is about deathly serious issues.

Elisa Winter December 5, 2016 at 4:43 am

Just to share. Here’s a copy of my ‘Dear John’ letter to my beloved news source the day after the election. I miss it so much I can hardly stand it. I feel so ME when I read the Times, and yet……

“My dearest cherished NYTimes:
I am going to leave you now. I think the campaign and the result of the campaign has done me in. The Times has been just about my only source of “real” news for quite some time. I have no tv and won’t listen to NPR or local news. I get no magazines and occasionally peruse Google news. Online Times has been great for me.

And yet, something so terrible has just happened and I have to blame the Times, in part. I have to blame the media altogether. You all made this terrible thing happen in ways too numerous to list, in ways that I don’t need to tell you. You all already know what’s happened and why.

I hope the media figure out how not to create monsters anymore. But since monster creation and promotion gathers eyeballs, that will remain a hope unfulfilled. The money’s too tight to mention, right?

I really do love you to bits.”
———————
Not to mention my slash and burn of my facebook habit and all things political therein. I got caught in the trap. Now I’m out. And I’ve got 5 novels going at the same time. I’m embroidering. I am talking to people on the telephone (gasp!). I am cooking lots and lots. I figure gazillions of generations of humans lived in their little local bubbles and did just fine. I am now doing the same.

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 9:31 am

Haha… thanks for sharing that. I feel kind of bad for organizations like the Times. They do great work but they can’t avoid covering (and therefore contributing to) the overblown circus that is the US election. Still, the quality of NYT reporting is several orders of magnitude better than mainstream TV news. I do read their stuff on a regular basis but I filter by topic. But as far as personal enrichment goes it’s hard to beat novels and handiwork.

Celine December 5, 2016 at 5:20 am

I moved from France to the UK in 2001 and i immediately felt how differently the TV news are treated. In UK, the tone, the words and the pictures are a lot more dramatic and scary than in France and i started feeling stressed, as if living on the bricks of some imminent disaster. So after a few months i stopped watching and i started reading online newspapers instead, from several countries. I feel I am very well informed yet relaxed :-)

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 9:32 am

It is really interesting to see these differences. TV news in Canada is mostly vapid and awful but when I turn on the TV in an American hotel room it’s like all of that is multiplied by 10. It would probably help our perspective to see how different countries treat the same news.

Jennifer December 5, 2016 at 6:13 am

As someone has already mentioned, I much prefer to read a post such as this to the news. I have not been a consumer for well over 20 years! Growing up we didn’t have access to the tv-and once I was living on my own, I didn’t own one. We have raised three children without it. I sometimes will listen to the radio, mainly for road conditions. That’s it. I call it my microcosm, and my energy goes to local issues where I can be effective.

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 9:34 am

There’s always a lot to read! I’m honored that you find this site worthwhile.

Paul December 5, 2016 at 6:33 am

The final nail in the coffin of mainstream media for me was the growing awareness that corporate media was transforming the news into one gigantic homogenous Newspeak orgy. More and more, meaningful, independent, regional, local news sources are being farmed out to corporate and global media. Everywhere you look, it is the same watered-down news.

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 9:37 am

Right, and corporate spin is something I didn’t touch here because of length. Even highly reputed organizations are subject to this. I wonder how many Washington Post readers know it’s owned by Jeff Bezos of Amazon.

Sara December 5, 2016 at 6:55 am

My response to those who announce they’ve “quit the news” for their own peace of mind has always been to think that is a position of privilege. I don’t need to know about the protests at Standing Rock if I’m not immediately affected, right? This article is the first one that’s pulled me toward buying into the “no news” camp. I have a question, however – how do you know what issues to read books about if you don’t know what’s going on in the world? This is a serious question. If I’m going to give up the news, how do I know where to start informing myself in in-depth ways. BTW, my current news sources include NPR, the NYT, BBC for America, Russian and Chinese news for America, Democracy Now, and miscellaneous left-oriented newsletters/periodicals such as The Nation, Jim Hightower’a Lowdown, and about 5 others of similar bent. Also my Facebook feed. How do I quit the news (which in my case includes book reviews and interviews with authors, etc) and still know where to start seeking out in-depth information, which does inform my behavior and interactions?

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 9:56 am

My response to those who announce they’ve “quit the news” for their own peace of mind has always been to think that is a position of privilege. I don’t need to know about the protests at Standing Rock if I’m not immediately affected, right?

Yes, exactly, and that’s what I was trying to address in the last point of the post. Being able to decide whether to care about whatever distant issue is a privilege that we generally don’t acknowledge, and I think that’s why so many people believe following TV news is the right thing to do, given a vacuum of direct involvement with any of the issues they cover.

I have a question, however – how do you know what issues to read books about if you don’t know what’s going on in the world?

I should reiterate that this post is about quitting the habit of keeping up with the news in the form of daily newscasts. I’m certainly not suggesting that you shouldn’t care what’s happening in the world, only that “The world at 6” type newscasts are an extremely superficial source of information about the world — they are too broad and shallow, and they’re meant to appeal to our base emotions instead of our intellects. Yet we’ve been sold a cultural meme that they are the foundation of any responsible adult’s self-education about world issues.

As I said, there are a ton of sources of actionable information about world issues, both the ones that affect you personally and the ones that don’t. All I’m saying is that as popular as it is, traditional news coverage is a worse-than-useless one.

Chris December 5, 2016 at 7:23 am

Definitely a struggle. I want to know what’s going on, but I realized that I wasn’t doing anything about it. Instead, I’ve moved the news I consume towards my work – this way it’s relevant. It’s tough when I have a parent who works at a newspaper, so it’s kind of been boiled into my bones to be aware of news. Either way, I’m always better when I take a break from it, but it feels like a diet – better when you’re in it but hard to appreciate when you’re eating that delicious bowl of ice cream (although the news is a really shitty ice cream).

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 4:42 pm

Really shitty ice cream is a pretty apt comparison. Tastes good in a bad sort of way.

aletheia33 December 5, 2016 at 7:33 am

reply to Sara, 6:55 a.m.:
sara,
i resonate with your comment. i recommend the blog naked capitalism, which i check into whenever i need an update on what’s important to be aware of. i think you might like it, given your left-oriented focus–and you may already be reading it!
i agree with other commenters that local and personal engagement is so much healthier and ultimately more useful than just reading news.
at the same time, for myself, having avoided following the news for decades of my life, i now regret it to some extent as i witness the way the powers that be have learned to take advantage of the vast majority’s ignorance of what those powers are doing to them. without the work of investigative journalists, i believe the forces of greed, including the addictive craving for power, will surprisingly soon literally destroy our planet, not to mention the hope of minimal material comfort for the vast majority of its humans. it’s hard to feel that one’s own efforts can help at all on such a vast scale, but in fact they actually do.
i think the trick nowadays, when investigative journalism and any form of dissent is being actively suppressed out by the neoliberal global powers that be, if we are to have hope of surviving as a species, is to find and read reliable sources of internet journalism. and i believe the most important topical subject anyone can helpfully read 3 books about today is neoliberalism.
yes, much of what we call history and current events ultimately does add up to a lot of compulsive thinking and attachment to false assumptions, starting of course with the fact that all of reality as we generally perceive it is simply a projection of our own minds and does not actually exist.
but we are also made to care and to want to help.
and david is not recommending here that we quit doing that.
however, david, i would like to see you post of how you recommend dealing with the threats to our grandchildren’s lives posed by global neoliberalism and its relentless destruction of the well-being of the vast majority of people on the planet. do you think i’m overly concerned about that and am exaggerating the situation we are in? untold human suffering is on the horizon for our species. coping with the anxiety and sense of futility that comes iwth holding that awareness and not simply screening it out (a psychological phenomenon known as denial) is quite a tall order even for advanced spiritual teachers these days.
would you have given this same advice to readers in germany in the 1930s? or would you have urged them to pay more careful attention to the inhumanity of the genocide they were contemplating and abetting? of course, we can’t know how we would have acted, and most of us guess, i imagine, that we would probably not have risked our lives to protect hated minorities.
right now a new mccarthyism is emerging in our own country. and facebook and netflix discourage people from interacting face to face or even leaving their houses for anything but going to work, if they are lucky enough to have a job, and buying essential needs. at what point does one have a responsibility, as a citizen, to speak out–if only to one’s neighbors and friends–to try and help prevent further social breakdown?
do i really want to live in a world where the virtues of “citizenship” are no longer taught or practiced because no one considers them essential to happiness any more?
the spiritual questions relating to action in the world are very deep and hard for even the greatest spiritual teachers to articulate and answer. i hope you will not oversimplify them as you blog about them going forward. 3 books on that subject might be a good place for all of us to start.

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 4:46 pm

would you have given this same advice to readers in germany in the 1930s? or would you have urged them to pay more careful attention to the inhumanity of the genocide they were contemplating and abetting?

I guess I don’t see those as mutually exclusive options. Listening to the radio with concern yet doing nothing is probably what most people did in response to the rise of Hitler. From what you said to sara, it’s clear you understand that I’m not suggesting people stop learning about the world or the things happening in it, only that keeping up with the news in the conventional way is quite useless and we should question what we are accomplishing. But I think your advice on reading three books on neoliberalism is a good one and I’ll take you up on that.

Melanie December 5, 2016 at 7:44 am

You are absolutely right . I quit watching the news and stopped getting caught up in the drama 2 years ago. I realized it was just depressing me and I felt manipulated. Now I’m much more at peace. I see blurbs now and then that flash across my phone. It did me no good to get caught up in the chaos. I give to charities that speak to my heart and I pray for the people on this planet.

Randye Kaye December 5, 2016 at 7:49 am

Beautifully done. I recently gave up Facebook for ten days and had a similar uptick in well-being, and wrote about it on my “happier made simple” blog. My kids find it hard to understand that we used to have to wait for the morning paper or the 11:00 news to know what had happened that day, and so we spent our evenings living our lives and still contributed to the world we live in. Thanks for a needed reminder!

Henk December 5, 2016 at 7:59 am

Hi David. Thank you for this post. I quit the news (and TV as a whole) over ten years ago. I have more time, I’m more relaxed, I hear enough about current events anyway. If I get into water-cooler talk when I have not heard about some story, people are more than happy to tell me about it and I only ask questions instead of argue, which gives these conversation a different quality.
A possible problem of this is that many people switch from tv&newspaper to facebook as their main news source. So they only see the stories that fit their own world view bubble, which gives them an even more distorted image of reality, leading to a very polarised social climate (which we can observe in a lot of countries lately).
In addition, more and more “quality” news content (analysis, retrospects, deeper research, everything that is not exactly entertaining anyway) gets hidden behind paywalls, so people switch to the lower quality, free news.

wrkrb December 7, 2016 at 5:17 pm

Are there independent news sources that the people of this thread/David recommends subscription to?

Aga December 5, 2016 at 8:05 am

might i recommend future crunch? it’s sort of the antidote to all the things you say (that are 100% right) about regular news. for one thing, they cover all those “unpopular” and “insignificant” places that we might not be exposed to because… well, who cares what happens in bhutan? and for another, they cover all the good news that regular news sources fail to mention: scientific breakthroughs, encouraging stats (such as the recent article on great leaps and strides in educating the world’s children), positive instances of bipartisan efforts, etc.

http://www.futurecrunch.com.au/about/

i’m so done with regular news. staying informed about the recent american election did nothing to improve my mental health. but there is good news out there.

Angus Hervey December 9, 2016 at 1:28 am

Hey Aga, thanks for the shout out.

And love this post, nice work David.

Ryan December 5, 2016 at 9:20 am

This is so timely for me. I have been subscribed be email to the New York time morning and evening updates for a long time. For the past week or so I’ve been thinking about how it’s just becoming clutter in my inbox, one more thing to take up my time and mental energy. This article inspired me to unsubscribe, so thanks!

Katia December 5, 2016 at 9:22 am

As a former journalist, this practice used to be mandatory for me. While it kept me informed, however, it was also incredibly draining. I believe that there is a way to mindfully watch the news, but it necessitates a calm, resilient mindset, a good BS detector, discernment of which channels deliver relatively unbiased news vs. running commentary and analysis, and knowing when to turn off the tube (I recommend doing so after approximately the first 10-15 minutes of the newscast).

Diana December 5, 2016 at 9:27 am

This post comes at the most opportune moment; the U.S. election coverage caused me far more angst than one would rationally expect, even though I did my best to avoid it.
Question for those that have successfully quit; what have you used in replacement, in order to maintain awareness about what matters to you?

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 4:53 pm

Question for those that have successfully quit; what have you used in replacement, in order to maintain awareness about what matters to you?

Books and articles from good sources. Learn about a fraction of the issues but 50x the depth.

Michael Alan Gambill December 5, 2016 at 9:29 am

I couldn’t agree more. As a former teacher, I liked to remind my students that the news (particularly TV) was not a window on the world as most thought, but a microscope. There is no substitute for getting out into the real world.

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 4:55 pm

No, there isn’t, and we really discount that source of information — what’s actually happening within the bounds of our own senses! Personal relationships and things happening in our own communities are also “current events” and they are important too.

Brenda December 5, 2016 at 10:06 am

I quit watching the news over a dozen years ago. I haven’t missed it for even a second! Now if I find myself trapped into watching it (a waiting room, a friends house, etc) I have a strong urge to escape. I liken it to reality tv, which I despise. It’s true that I don’t always know about some current events when others are talking about them, but I find that they are usually topics of little consequence anyway. As for the important issues, I manage to come across them from various sources that are more meaningful and truly informative. Not watching the news has left me better informed overall I would have to say.

John S December 5, 2016 at 10:23 am

I generally agree with the thesis and conclusions here, although I haven’t gone cold turkey on news per say. In spite of past worries about being underinformed or looking at the “wrong” sources, I’ve taken comfort in minimizing my news diet. I’ve found the cottage industry of news-in-brief mailing lists helpful in keeping track of the major developments and narratives, contemporary issues to look more deeply into through essays/books, etc. I put in just a few minutes’ investment of news reading without the hot air of cable news and their ilk.

My news portfolio, for lack of a better term:
Daily Pnut – general world news

TheSkimm – general US/world news, not crazy about their “Sex and the City” writing style but I glance to see if there’s anything Daily Pnut skipped

Washington Post 5 Minute Fix – political developments in brief

Finimize – Economics presented in such a way that it’s understandable for those of us who aren’t econ/business people.

I followed Quartz Daily Brief for a while, but quit that because it was very business and finance-centric and seemed to assume the reader’s expertise about that domain.

Jen December 5, 2016 at 10:30 am

I’ve been on a low-news diet for years. I resurfaced to check on the presidential election and had a lot of anxiety as a result. I still sometimes jolt awake with fear about how things are proceeding in the US.
I just saw this video about how much fake news is out there, and it caused me to be even less interested in participating in ‘keeping informed’ https://www.facebook.com/Channel4News/videos/10154278672816939/?hc_ref=NEWSFEED .
I voted. There’s nothing further I can do, so there’s no reason to continue to give any of this my attention. The news is harmful to me.

Ante Sewerin December 5, 2016 at 10:33 am

I will not discuss your points but I do not agree on everything. One example, how are the US people get to know on whom they should vote for as the new president? As you point out, the news is valueless but where can you find any general neutral information which helps you to make you vote? I think that most of what is printed shows the writers opinion more or less, as well as your own writing on the matter of news. There might be a fox hidden behind your left ear :-)
In order to be able to take part in any demonstration och sending money for saving children in the Syrian war – you have to be informed somehow today, not waiting for any printed book on these matters. You have to see some news – trouble is having interpreted what i says. Best regards, Ante Sewerin

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 5:00 pm

As I mentioned, this post is about keeping up with what is happening in the world through daily/24-hour newscasts. There are plenty of better sources on current events — generally written journalism is deeper than TV news. It’s not as though you become shuttered in the dark as soon as you turn off CNN. I would argue that no, you don’t have to see some news. It is unthinkable to many people, but news is not a requirement to live. I don’t understand how it was at all difficult for anyone to decide who to vote for in the US election.

Ani Castillo December 5, 2016 at 10:55 am

Ooooh David, this one hits home.

I’ve been trying to quit the news but look this is my theory:

“If there are people having to take all that suffering, the least I can do is learn about it!”

My theory makes no sense whatsoever, since as you say, nothing at all is accomplished by merely learning about a situation.

I do think we need to know about things that happen, because if we don’t, then the Hitlers happen (although Trump is happening right now and we still can do anything about it… from Canada at least)

This troubles me, but reading the news lately has made me incredibly scared and anxious. And I don’t think that helps anyone really!

Anyways, thank you and I hope you’re well!

– Ani

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 5:02 pm

Hi Ani. Hitlers happen whether or not people watch the news. But as I said, if we believe we are involved just because we’re watching TV then we might be less inclined to get involved in concrete ways that actually affect the proceedings.

Matías Almeida December 5, 2016 at 10:58 am

I quit news about 9 years ago and can confirm the findings in your article. It is hard to convincente people to quit the habit. Also quit cable TV about the same time, i’ve not missed it at all!
Nice article, will translate it to spanish and pass it on to my family and Friends (i’m from Uruguay and Venezuela).
Love to read you, keep it up!

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 5:03 pm

Thanks for sharing it with people Matias.

Mark December 5, 2016 at 11:47 am

I disconinued my cable TV service about a month ago and watch no network TV or news now. I used to turn it on every morning and evening and watch news or whatever. Now I feel an urge to sit down and turn the TV on and then realize that it is not there to indulge in anymore and I move on to something else. I feel more peaceful now that my mind is no longer being filled with “what’s scary and infuriating”

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 5:07 pm

There was originally a sixth point in this article, which I cut for length, but you touched on it here. For many or most viewers, the news is a kind of indulgence. We use it a weird kind of entertainment — we want to see drama, we like to hate villains, we like to be emotionally aligned with or against certain ideas or groups of people. But that’s really controversial and would have doubled the word count of the post.

Karen J December 5, 2016 at 6:02 pm

Would love to see a post on that topic, David!

chacha1 December 5, 2016 at 2:43 pm

I quit the news long before I quit watching “live TV.” After we went to satellite TV, and even more so now that we have gone to streaming, what we watch is entirely a matter of choice. But even before, I did not see that turning on the news as soon as I got home from work had more value than winding down from my workday; and staying up till 11:30 to watch the late news had much less value than getting myself to bed at a time that permits a full night’s sleep.

It is pretty easy to adjust a Facebook feed so that “news” stories don’t appear; it is purely a function of what items and pages you “like.” Anyone who thinks of Facebook as their primary news source is someone I wouldn’t want to discuss current events with.

During my workweek, I occasionally check headlines on BBC America, CNN, San Francisco Chronicle, and the local papers of the county where we are buying property. This tells me as much as I need to know about all the things in the world that do not directly affect me and which I cannot directly affect, i.e. “what’s happening.” It also tells me as much as I need to know about local concerns with which I may choose to become involved in a meaningful fashion.

Hamlet December 5, 2016 at 3:02 pm

At the risk of derailing this thread (because it refers to the recent U.S. presidential election), I quote Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams:

“. . . the stories most likely to make headlines are THE ONES LEAST LIKELY TO BE TRUE. There is a common-sense reason that will make you laugh when you hear it. Here it is.

TRUE STUFF ISN’T INTERESTING BECAUSE IT ALL MAKES SENSE.

In order for a headline to be ‘news’ (unless violence is involved) there has to be a head-scratching element to it. You have to wonder how-the-hell someone could act so inappropriately, sexist, racist, whatever. So when you see “news” about a person’s outrageous behavior revealing their terrible inner soul, the facts upon which it is based are unlikely to be true. News isn’t news until it doesn’t make sense. . . .

That’s what makes a story. You have to simultaneously doubt it happened while believing it happened. When people do predictable things, in character, it is not news. That’s why the news is often fake. Real stuff isn’t interesting.”

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 5:10 pm

This idea is interesting but I’m a little confused by it. He’s saying that everything unusual enough to be “news” must be untrue?

Hamlet December 6, 2016 at 3:36 pm

It does come across a bit confusing if taken literally. I guess one has to take it as “truthful hyperbole,” as Trump himself put it in his book The Art of the Deal. It’s part of the persuasion game that master communicators engage in in order to hammer home a valid point.

Christy December 5, 2016 at 3:13 pm

You have hit more than one nail on the head with this article, makes me feel not so alone in not wanting to be any part of the news environment; it just leads to bad feelings, mind fog, and depression. The world did without news and each lived well in their own environment until fairly recently, I think it is the way we were “built” to be. I live in 3 different countries each year, I see little difference in the news in any of them, all seem to follow the same dismal pattern, although sometimes my husband finds little threads of light in English broadcasts, and online we are finding places where we can read about good things going on, one being “BBC Future”. Thanks for this really thoughtful piece of writing.

Ingrid December 5, 2016 at 3:37 pm

“Thank you , thank you” for sharing this. I always tell my son it’s just bad news anyway, but your article gave me a much better overview of “why” this is the case. It’s also the FOMO (fear of missing out) that is the thing, but you know, we find out pretty quickly through word of mouth if it is significant. I had been riveted to the US elections, but would good did that do me ? Nothing ! Cheers, Ingrid, NZ

Ingrid December 5, 2016 at 3:41 pm

Oh the other thing I was reading the other day was that the world has become too complex for people to process. I would have to agree with that, and watching the news can just make us feel completely powerless as if wars, earthquakes, train crashes killing 20 people and disasters are happening all around us. It’s too much to process. There is only so much suffering we can witness.

David Cain December 5, 2016 at 5:13 pm

Oh the other thing I was reading the other day was that the world has become too complex for people to process.

Are you reading Sapiens by Yuval Harari? Because I am, and that’s exactly what he’s talking about. Our brains are geared for keeping track of about a hundred people and their relationships, yet technology has made it possible to learn bits about far off lands and millions of different lives. Would pre-electricity people really have been better off if they could know what horrible things are happening across the ocean? It’s hard to believe they were missing out on something.

Karen J December 5, 2016 at 6:01 pm

Yeah – NO!
And we aren’t any better off, either!
DeepBreath! Bright Blessings!

Peter Howells December 5, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Great article.
I gave up the news a couple of years ago.
I no longer watch Newsnight on BBC1 or listen to Radio 4 in the morning.
I feel much better for it.
I stay in touch with things by reading longer articles in the London Review of Books, and also Private Eye, both of which are excellent publications.
If you can’t give up completely then at least give up reading toxic racist lying dross like The Daily Mail and The Daily Express.

Gerry December 6, 2016 at 2:41 am

Very true Peter. Those papers are pure poison. I thought it impossible to stop Radio 4 in the morning but just listening to music feels so much better. I will give the London Review of Books a go.
Thanks

Karen J December 5, 2016 at 5:58 pm

I quit the news almost 7 years ago (I still listen to genuinely informative programs, on public radio, on occasion) and I almost immediately felt lighter and more at ease!
Since the American Election, I’ve consciously remembered every day, that “The Higher Power’s Got This”, and no amount of me fretting is going to make a damm bit of difference, so I don’t subject myself to fret-inducing BS.
Thanks for the confirmation and the encouragement, David!

Eric S December 5, 2016 at 7:13 pm

Great article. I’ve long prided myself on being a well-informed citizen, reading news from multiple domestic and foreign sources.

In the wake of the recent US election, I quickly realized that I could not be so well-informed and also sustain my mental health. And – realistically – there is little useful action that I can do day-to-day to “fix” the situation from my perspective.

So I quit reading news, quit Facebook, and very consciously put my head in the sand. I still get some news from some sources, but it’s far less than I used to and it serves me surprisingly well.

One big benefit: I get to sleep FAR faster than I used to. I am loving this!

Eric S December 6, 2016 at 9:15 am

Related: I’ve long described news and political organizations collectively as the “outrage industry” – i.e. those who benefit from keeping us angry and afraid. A friend pointed out to me that by reposting news stories on Facebook that I was becoming part of that cycle. That observation has a lot to do with why I bowed out.

Let’s suck the oxygen out of the room.

David Cain December 7, 2016 at 10:29 am

I think that’s a fair way of describing much of it. Once you step away it becomes so clear that it’s mean to hook us emotionally rather than intellectually.

Blake December 5, 2016 at 9:15 pm

Makes me think of “There is a war going on for your mind”.

If more people could cut out the landslide of misinformation, lies, and general manipulation of the media they would cease to be soldiers of the media. Reality is what the majority rules it to be in many cases and even those of us conscious of the insidious nature of news media fail to keep up the marathon of sourcing and fact checking necessary to safely repeat something or use it to form a firm opinion. Combing the news for information of practical use just directly exposes you to the full force of the collective “Ministry of Truth”‘s brainwashing and wastes valuable time that could be used for the personal growth or investigation necessary to actually form actionable opinions.

It’s an excellent point that there’s something wonderfully cathartic about convincing yourself that gathering information holds intrinsic value, and also seems to excuse a sort of “balancing act” that justifies the consumption of mind-numbing junk media because you’ve has done your part in fighting the good fight against… whatever it is people convince themselves they’re accomplishing by dredging the shallows of mainstream news.

Books definitely need to be balanced out with a fair amount of research – it’s far too easy to get published and it’s ridiculous the amount of credibility that comes from being written. We tell our grandparents they can’t believe everything they get forwarded to their email and then we read one book on a subject and suddenly we’re experts because they wouldn’t be allowed to print it if it weren’t true… right?

David Cain December 7, 2016 at 10:34 am

There’s no reason to believe everything you read in a book. That’s why we should read lots of them. But it is just a deeper medium than news to begin with. The consumers and producers are both bringing much more effort and thought to the transaction.

Gerry December 6, 2016 at 2:35 am

Hi David,
Such a brilliant post with all points covered. I have realised that the news over recent years and particularly this year (with Brexit here in the UK and Trump here in the world) has led to an internal meltdown for what I can process. Today was the first day I turned off. I was in the last camp calm and have been reusing the Seinfeldian Tracking which is brilliant to keep on sitting.
So now I will have 2 crosses per day in red!
On a side note I would be interested to know if you track multiple things in this way?
Thanks Again for this great post.

David Cain December 7, 2016 at 10:36 am

In the past I have had trouble trying to track more than one thing at a time with the seinfeldian method, because it loses the definiteness that makes it so useful. If you get one crossed off but not the other, is that a good day? If you miss one it seems like permission to miss the other. But that might just be my own bad attitude :)

Mel December 6, 2016 at 3:29 am

I love articles about quitting the news. :-)

Even though our teachers at school over the years repeatedly told us how essential it is to read the newspaper and watch the evening news (German Tagesschau was supposed to be very conservative and objective in the ’90), I always found it too boring to get into the habit.

20 years later in Germany I actually feel haunted by the news. On the way to work there are news screens at every metro station, at work the colleagues discuss “their” opinions about the latest scandals, the phone of a friend bings and he announces the newest news and worst is the gym: During my 30min on the crosstrainer I cannot avoid staring at a TV screen and after 30min reading the red banner with the breaking news I am usually really angry because news agencies try to make everything seem so dramatic and I feel manipulated.

However now I am finishing a three month stay in India (main purpose: relaxing at my Dad’s place) and the biggest source of joy and entertainment for me here was the daily newspaper. When it wasn’t delivered for a few days during festivals I was really sad. ;-)
I think the main reason why I liked it so much was that I couldn’t relate to most of the scandals, so no emotions were triggered, but I learnt an awful lot about the country through this newspaper. Also the comic and crosswords page was cool. ;-) And I always finished my reading with a daily article about peace, meditation or spirituality which let me start my day with a positive attitude.

Back in Europe however I will try again to avoid as much news as possible… Nothing to learn from the news there…

David Cain December 7, 2016 at 10:37 am

I think the main reason why I liked it so much was that I couldn’t relate to most of the scandals, so no emotions were triggered, but I learnt an awful lot about the country through this newspaper.

That is really interesting, the way it separated the delivery of information from the emotional attachments. Thanks for posting this comment.

Desidério Murcho December 6, 2016 at 5:47 am

I stopped following news about my own profession (I am a university professor) because they were making me hate the profession. For some reason, reporting news brings out the worse about almost anything. Perhaps because it is always one-sided and superficial; perhaps because it tends to overplay the worse bickering between people. I do not know. But to me at least is depressing. And unhelpful.

General news reporting is of course much worse.

Ellie December 6, 2016 at 4:40 pm

Great thing about skipping the news is, you can always catch up on it later. Even much later — and through the lens of hindsight. Skip the news for the first fifty years and then catch up. Just the important stuff will remain. No “U.S. Invades Grenada!” No reason to spend any time on that. You could probably knock it all out in an afternoon. Then on to the next fifty.

David Cain December 7, 2016 at 10:41 am

Good point. There’s a great youtube channel that does this, called Retro Report. They reexamine news stories from past decades that were huge at the time, and very often the original story was completely wrong, overblown or more complex than it was portrayed.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBh_GM0xQZQRKSU0ZiVbqdg

TimE December 7, 2016 at 1:13 am

Much of the so-called news is just begging to be deconstructed. Once we look past the driving forces that manipulate the minds of the masses, it is obvious to see their means of control. Unaware, we are simply pawns in their world. There is a way. (Take the red pill [https://noagendaplayer.com/listen/736])

In the morning.

Eric December 7, 2016 at 5:45 am

Great post – all my life I have been a news junkie.
After the recent election, I stopped cold turkey and am better for it.
In retrospect, it was really a way to escape the now.
Your observations are spot on, thanks for capturing a feeling I have had for a long time.
I take great solace in seeing others recognize the same
Keep up the posts !

Kate December 7, 2016 at 12:57 pm

I quit watching or reading the news regularly over 6 years ago. I can attest to your findings that it didn’t change how much I knew, in fact, I learned more in those years about the world in general. I now use a quick email from TheSkimm daily to keep up with everyday conversations, but beyond that I avoid it as much as possible. I’m happier for it and not any less informed.

Chris December 7, 2016 at 3:30 pm

I quit watching TV during the OJ Simpson trial in the 90s. Too many “breaking news” interruptions about what the prosecuting attorney was wearing and various other trivial nonsense. I switched over to reading monthly magazines, listening to NPR and, later, a few trusted websites. All tend to focus on the bigger picture and less on the daily noise. I feel I’m better informed than many.

However, when I did watch TV, I noticed the same overriding negativity you mentioned. During my travels I noticed that news programs in every city followed the same formula (I some various arrangements of the following order):

1. Cover all the bad things that happened in your City
2. Cover all the bad things that happened in your State
3. Cover all the bad things that happened in the Country
4. Cover all the bad things that happened in the World.
5. Sports
6a. What the weather was like today (already lived it, don’t need it explained).
6b. What the weather will be like tonight (might be of some utility, but I’ll be sleeping)
6c. What the weather will be like tomorrow (finally something I can use).
7. Business news/stocks
8. Some random “feel good” story about injured/lost animals getting love or the generous act of some individual (portrayed as something so rare it merits special mention; in spite of the fact that if you carefully observed your day you would notice these acts [big and small] happening all around you).

Herbert December 8, 2016 at 10:49 am

It´s been one year since I quit watching TV News, deleted facebook, deleted all news apps in my phone. I agreed with every word you said up there.

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