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The Best News Is No News [May. 2nd, 2011|11:36 am]
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.

[User Picture]From: huxbear
2011-05-02 06:26 pm (UTC)


Awesome post and resource-link, man! Thanks! :o)

One of my greatest teachers told me years ago -- and it's *still* bubbling down and meaning more and more to me every time I hear it -- "When you pay for news, you're paying for someone else's *opinion* of the facts." and we "pay" with our time and attention just as much (if not more) than with our $$$... :o)

Again, thanks! :o)
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2011-05-02 07:50 pm (UTC)

Re: :o)

Glad you enjoyed it. :)
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[User Picture]From: nitasee
2011-05-02 06:37 pm (UTC)
I do follow the news, but I also go through periods when I just can't. You know, a week or two when I just can't watch or listen to it any more. I'm emerging from that right now.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2011-05-02 08:52 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean.

But why emerge at all? The use of the word "can't" implies a silent "but ought to". I think we should all purge that sense of obligation.

Advertising for the news tells us it's all things that we need to know, but that's a lie. I say, watch/listen/read if you want, but only if you want. And don't feel bad if you don't.

Edited at 2011-05-02 08:53 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: nitasee
2011-05-02 09:13 pm (UTC)
Oh, I didn't mean to imply that I felt an obligation to listen to the news. Generally, I want to...kinda like an itch I want to scratch. But the "just can't" was because I also have periods of overload or emotional malaise when I just don't want to listen...when I feel like it doesn't matter whether I hear the news or not because it doesn't make a difference if I do. I tend to avoid the news when I start feeling like the bulk of it is two sides contradicting each other.

I suspect a great many people follow the news out for social reasons: being responsible or just being able to talk to others like you know something. I'm guilty of that motivation myself.
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[User Picture]From: ocschwar
2011-05-02 08:33 pm (UTC)
THe irony of course is that my news addiction is the reason you know about this paper.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2011-05-02 08:42 pm (UTC)
I know. It's like rain, on my wedding day.
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[User Picture]From: ocschwar
2011-05-03 05:41 pm (UTC)
Squueeeee! My favorite song!
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2011-05-02 08:40 pm (UTC)
Yeah, this.
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[User Picture]From: annlarimer
2011-05-02 09:14 pm (UTC)
The thing that finally got me to quit watching the news was being home sick the day Heath Ledger died. I wasn't a fan or anything, but the coverage was appalling. Speculation and complete bullshit whipped into a horrific, frothy TV death Twinkie, while the cameras waited outside his apartment hoping for a glimpse of the body. WELL, KENT, IT'S ENTIRELY POSSIBLE THAT HE WAS A HEAVY DRUG ADDICT AND PLAYING THE JOKER MADE HIM GO FUCKING CRAZY AND HANG HIMSELF FROM A LIGHT FIXTURE, BUT WE DON'T REALLY KNOW YET. GOD I LOVE IT WHEN THESE GUYS DIE. IT GETS ME HARD, KENT. AND WE'VE ALL SEEN "MAGIC," WE KNOW SHOWBIZ LEADS TO DEATH. AND BATMAN VILLAINS. REMEMBER WHEN CESAR ROMERO AND BURGESS MERIDETH HAD THAT SUICIDE PACT? WAIT! WAIT! SOMEONE'S MOVING OUTSIDE THE BUILDING OH GODDAMMIT IT'S JUST THE MAILMAN.

It made me miss A Current Affair.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2011-05-03 05:03 am (UTC)
Glad I missed that. D:
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[User Picture]From: annlarimer
2011-05-03 03:32 pm (UTC)
I should mention that this went on for an hour and a half before I switched it off. It was like watching a long, tacky train wreck.
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[User Picture]From: nehrlich
2011-05-02 11:46 pm (UTC)
Hear, hear. I haven't had any exposure to "news" for years now, in the sense that I don't read a newspaper or go to news websites or ever watch any TV news.

I do read the Economist, but I often am reading it a week or two late, and, y'know what? It's still interesting to read weeks out of date. I might posit that as a difference between news and journalism - news is only of interest in the fleeting moment, whereas journalism can be consumed weeks or months later and still have value.

I also find that the things I care about are out of alignment with the mass majority of Americans, which means that news really doesn't work for me (okay, I'm a junky for sports sites, but that's my own personal guilty pleasure). I'm proud to say that the only thing I know about the royal wedding is the impact it had on Google's revenue (since I get paid to care about the latter). I have no opinion or feelings about Osama bin Laden, and really could care less - his death has absolutely zero impact on my life.

I actually think that's one of the weird things about news - because of our gossip-oriented brains, news makes us start caring about things that have nothing to do with us because we feel like we "know" those celebrities. In hunter-gatherer days, all information we had access to was of immediate interest to our survival, and those instincts carry over to today even when we are exposed regularly to things well outside of our sphere of influence. But anything that gets personalized (e.g. Osama bin Laden as the face of the war on terror) will become something we care about far more than anything that remains impersonalized (e.g. the fact that ten times more Americans die each year in car crashes than died in 9/11, and yet 9/11 is used to justify restricting civil liberties ten years later, baffles me).


I still fail at the long-form reading I claim to want to do more of - I glanced at the paper you linked to and then failed to read it. But someday when my brain is less full of work, I have a big stack of books to start working on.

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[User Picture]From: tdjohnsn
2011-05-03 02:48 am (UTC)
Thank you for posting that. I've known for a long time that my RSS feed makes me stressed and unhappy. On the one hand I crave the rush from the little hit of endorphins that hits everytimr a feed or blog (or live journal for that matter,) updates, but it just creates a need for another hit, and in addition I am angry or upset about something I read or I end up feeling isolated and alone because I disagree without just about everyone (reading live journal and Facebook has made it really clear to me that i have nothing in common with what 90% of other gay men do or think is important) and it is all just kind of pointless.

I need to do a bunch of purging. I've already given up Facebook for much the same reason.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2011-05-03 05:42 am (UTC)
Glad you found it interesting.

In grad school, I went to a gay men's support group, and we would occasionally talk about "community", and the conclusion I came to is that back when being gay meant necessarily being underground, everyone had the same shared experience, and that commonality tied everyone together. But nowadays, sexuality has less influence on who you are; it doesn't have to be a central facet of your identity. So it's not a very good criterion for finding like-minded folks anymore, because the only thing they're guaranteed to have in common is physical attraction -- and that's pretty random. Essentially it's just a random collection of people, and I think a lot of us have almost nothing in common with about 90% of anybody thinks is important. So ya gotta figure out who that other 10% are, and then find 'em...
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[User Picture]From: thedragonweaver
2011-05-04 03:11 am (UTC)
You know my degree is in broadcast studies, right? So guess when my strong disinterest in the news dates from.

I was mildly disinterested before, but once I started those classes and found out just how dumb the vast majority of the students were—not to mention the teachers, one of them told me not to use the word "epicenter" because it was too complex—it became a thing of horror.

Oddly enough, I work at a news radio station. But then, I'm the button-pusher, I don't have to pretend to repackage the AP feed into something readable. *And* it was my shift that the news came in. The weekend girl was freaking out, because she never dreamed she'd get to be the one to break a big story like that, and I was thinking, "He was still relevant?" Of course, the annoying part was that we got the word and then we had to sit on it while waiting for the President's speech almost an hour later, so the story went from rumor to confirmed before we got to do anything about it.
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