May 2nd, 2011

Dr. Tectonic

The Best News Is No News

I don't follow news.

I have never watched TV news. Even back before 24-hour cable news, even before the rise of Faux News, it just always pushed hard on my factory-installed Gen-X-model fakery-detection buttons.

I used to read the newspaper. For more than a decade, I subscribed to the Boulder Daily Camera, and glancing through the first two sections on the way to the excellent comics page seemed like about as much news as I really needed. But when we moved to the new house, I learned that the Camera doesn't deliver this far out. So I canceled the subscription.

I hardly ever listen to news on the radio. I only listen to the radio when I'm in the car, and I would rather listen to music. (I actually jump stations whenever the music stops.) So it's only when all my usual music stations are stuck on ads at the same time that I switch to NPR. And nowadays, all my commuting is by bus, so I'm only in the car for about 10 or 15 minutes a day total.

I don't follow news online. All the Big Media-type websites have WAAAAAAY too much jingly-jangly junk crowding in around the content, and I really can't stand it. You can turn it off with NoScript, but then you have to carefully reactivate the appropriate chunks, and it's just annoying. (How does anyone read anything on HuffPo? Seriously.)

So I'm not investing any effort in following any standard source of news.

And yet.

Today, I know that Osama bin Laden was killed -- I think by an explosion -- in a mansion near a military base in Pakistan about a week ago, and that his identity has been verified by DNA tests. I know that last night President Obama gave a speech wherein he announced this fact. I know that some people feel celebratory, and some feel relieved, and some feel like it's closure for 9/11, but a lot of people are feeling conflicted, because there are ugly strains of jingoism and vengefulness running through it all, and it's unclear what effect, if any, there will be on important things like civil liberties and multicultural tolerance and peace in the Middle East and whether we can now let go of the absurdities of rules about shampoo on airplanes.

Anyway, my point is, you should take a break from reading about all that stuff to read this:

It's an essay by Rolf Dobelli about why following the news is bad for you. He lays it all out far better than I could, and I really think he's right.

I have never been a hard-core news junkie, but I follow it even less today than I did a few years ago, and I think I'm better for it. News is unhealthy for the individual mind, and it's unhealthy for us as a society.

And I should note, for clarity, that news is not the same thing as journalism, and that unplugging from the news will not mire you in ignorance of current affairs. When important things happen, you'll still hear about them. I know what's going on today, and I know about the terrible storms in the southeast, and I heard about the Kanto earthquake. We are gossipy creatures by nature.

Oh, and one other point: a lot of people have shared their reactions to this event, and their reactions to others' reactions. But I've also noticed a fair number of folks who are very much not discussing it. And I want to say: that's okay. More than that, good for you! One of the things about our cultural addition to news is that there's a very strong social pressure to care about things that are in the news, as if it's some kind of dereliction of duty not to want to discuss them in public, or worse yet, not to be concerned about distant events you have no influence over. So if you're one of the people who isn't really comfortable joining in the collective emotional processing of this (or any particular) historic event, I just want to point out that you are not alone.