Last December, I stopped reading the news. (I did the same thing a few years ago, but ended up going back to reading the news after a few months – this time, I’ve been much better at sticking to it). For the last ten months, I’ve focused on news that’s related to healthcare reform (my job is to write about healthcare reform, so keeping up with the details of what’s going on with that is vital to my work). I have also read the occasional news story about events that matter either to me personally or to people who are close to me. My “friend” list on Facebook is about 140 people, but I’ve hidden well over half of those people in my feed as well as all of the games people play that used to clog up my newsfeed. When I log onto Facebook, I only see updates from family and close friends, including lots of people who were in the Peace Corps with me. The news items that they tend to post on Facebook are well-written, focused on important world events, and are not sensationalist – if one of the headlines catches my attention, I’ll click through and read the article. I am rarely disappointed.
Life is better without a constant barrage of news in my life. The news tends to be focused on doom-and-gloom, and on isolated tragic events. Even if those tragic events are relatively rare, the constant news updates and the sheer volume of people on the earth make it seem like tragic scary events are lurking around every corner. The fact is that I cannot solve all of the world’s problems. And if I can’t do anything about a problem, there is no reason to have it sloshing around in my brain, competing for attention with all of the things that I can do something about.
Mr Money Mustache wrote a post about this subject yesterday, and it’s a very good read. I skimmed through the comments and saw quite a few that mentioned that the news is important in order to be a good citizen of the world. I think I am still a “good citizen” even though I have drastically limited my news consumption. My job involves writing accurate, fact-checked, well-researched articles about healthcare reform, which hopefully serve to dispel some of the appallingly inaccurate myths that have been circulating ever since the law was passed. I volunteer in our son’s school one morning a week, and we donate on a local level to our food bank and on a global level to Doctors Without Borders. We vote in every election, on every issue. We were recently able – with help from my parents and my husband’s parents – to pay for a close friend’s Masters degree at a university in Tanzania, and we’ve also been able to provide some direct financial support to a few other people I know from my time in the Peace Corps (although we like several charities, we also like giving money directly to people who need it. In our case, it’s people I know personally, but apparently this is a good strategy anyway). We bike or walk anytime we go somewhere in our own town, in an effort to minimize our family’s impact on the earth (we do this even though I no longer read depressing articles about climate change – we already know it’s a problem, and we’re already doing what we can to be part of the solution – reading scary articles doesn’t help unless you still need to be convinced of the severity of the problem). It’s definitely possible to be actively working to make the world a better place – and solving the problems you can solve – without being caught up in the 24 hour news cycle.
My own experience is that I’m happier and calmer without checking the news all the time. We got rid of our TV several years ago, so it’s been a long time since I’ve watched TV news. But I used to read news articles online all the time, and not just the ones that pertained to my work or my own life (and I’m not proud to admit it, but it wasn’t the NY Times… my news source was often Yahoo). But I only have 24 hours in my day. I have two jobs now and I’m also a full-time mom. I cook all of our meals from scratch (and grow a lot of the food we eat) and do a reasonably decent job of keeping our house clean. There is just no way that I could do all of this if I were spending time watching TV or surfing the internet. It’s definitely better for me to avoid mindless consumption of constant news stories. It frees up time in my day and space in my brain – both of which I can use to actually make life better.
I’ve also always tended to be a worrier, and I’ve noticed that I don’t worry about things beyond my control much anymore – no doubt because I’m no longer giving my brain as much random crap to worry about. Some people – ahem… all the men in my life – don’t seem to have this problem, but I know a lot of people do, especially women. If you find yourself worrying about stuff that you can’t do anything about, try giving up the news for a month and see if you’re worrying less.
I still use the internet every day. We wouldn’t be able to do our job without it, and I’m thankful for all of the people who take the time to write well-researched articles about topics I need to understand for my job and my life (and to answer random questions from my five year old…). I have a small handful of blogs that I still read, because they motivate me, inspire me, teach me, or just generally make my life better. You don’t have to give it all up, and you probably wouldn’t want to. But if you feel like you never have time to finish all that you need to do in a day, keep track of how much time you’re spending watching or reading “the news” and clicking on links as you go. Facebook “news” counts in here too. You might find that a media diet is just what you need to free up some extra time in your day and space in your brain.