Why It’s More Important Than Ever to Ignore the News. John Zeratsky of Time Dorks makes the case for minimizing the time spent reading the news, yet remaining informed and increasing the time available to actually do something about the news. Interestingly, John doesn’t mention the mental health aspects of limiting news consumption.
More than two years ago, I started an experiment with Facebook: I hide the sources I don’t want to see anymore. I started with the Buzzfeed quizzes, then moved on to the radio stations and their silly news stories. I hid the parody sites, the viral meme sites, the sports teams’ sites.
But I kept some news sites. The Wall Street Journal. NPR. OPB. The Washington Post. The NY Times.1Turns out, I noted this in a footnote in a previous post. ‘Course, you probably already noticed that, being the type that reads footnotes and all… ;-)
These are reputable sources. I shouldn’t have to worry about them, right?
Facebook doesn’t see itself as a news media company.2It’s an ad serving company. It sells eyeballs to advertisers. It fired its human editors and replaced them with an algorithm.
Facebook’s algorithm’s goal is not to keep us educated and informed, to show us a balanced cross-section of news. Instead, Facebook wants to keep us on Facebook. It does that by watching us closely and determining what our political views are.3Thanks to all those Facebook “like” buttons across the web, Facebook knows what you read on the internet. Then it feeds us news that agrees with our biases.
It doesn’t matter that I haven’t blocked a news source with a different political perspective. Facebook won’t show it to me. Facebook wants to keep me happy — and as a byproduct, ignorant.
I made a decision to expand my Facebook experiment: no news on Facebook, period.4Yeah, I know. I’ll still see news from those sources I haven’t yet blocked. But only once. It has made a huge difference in my Facebook newsfeed. I see more baby pictures, more vacation pictures, and more statuses.
I’ll get my news elsewhere.5For those that are interested, that elsewhere currently is Twitter. I intentionally follow people with whom I disagree. They are good at finding those sources I’ll have the most difficulties with.
News in general doesn’t matter most of the time, and most people would be far better off if they spent their time consuming less news and more ideas that have more lasting import.
The Zimmerman verdict is an outrage, some would say. I’m not so sure.
No, really. I have no idea. All I know about Zimmerman I learned from the popular media.1I didn’t sit in the jury box and hear what the jury heard, and only what the jury heard.
Maybe a little background is in order.
I did criminal defense and had the occasion of being involved in a “high profile” case. The local TV, radio, and newspaper media all jumped on the case. They interviewed one side2Not surprising, as the defense attorneys advised our clients not to talk to the media. Which the media all knew. and created a story that sounded good. And sold papers. And ads.
Their story had a great narrative with clear good guys, bad guys, and a tragic plot. But that’s all it was — a story.
It wasn’t true.
When the verdicts were announced, the public was outraged. How could the jury have been so stupid?
It was a long time before a local, independent newspaper reported the real story. By then, no one cared. Everyone had moved on to the next outrage.
Times have changed. The professional media doesn’t have the same lock on the news market it once had. But the desire to tell a good story and confirmation bias still exist. Those supposed independent news sources have the same problem.
I wonder how much presented as news today will be retracted tomorrow.
News is bad for you — and giving up reading it will make you happier. Something to keep in mind, especially in light of yesterday’s events in Boston.