Trying to ignore the news.

Recently, when browsing the comments under some news item, I followed a link to a paper by Rolf Dobelli (PDF) supporting the notion that following the news is not beneficial to your mental and physical wellbeing. After reading (had to try hard to read all eleven pages and not quit after page 4 to do something else, like checking the news) I’m quite convinced that some of the issues raised are true, at least they describe the way in which news seems to have influenced me. In this post I’ll try to cover some of the interesting points, but you should read the whole paper 😉

This essay peaked my interest because I really find it hard to concentrate on any reading task, even if the subject is interesting to me. A possible explanation of why many people feel this way is how we consume the news today. We ares used to get small bites of informations from many sources. Quickly skimming over news article that catch our attention, and then another article catches our attention, and yet another one… A terrible lack of focus.

In some way I certainly have become a news junkie. It has become normal to start with the TV news in the morning before going to work (and on days off too). Then at the office check some major news sites every now and then. Also heavily depending on how well the work is progressing. At home I read the news paper, with mainly old news by then. The paper suggests to immediately stop following the news. Just like that. Quit. Why should one?

Three reasons to avoid news from the essay I found most compelling are number two, six and fifteen. Reason no 2 simply states that “news is irrelevant”. Maybe that’s the strongest reason to stop. Consuming news costs precious time (reason number eight) however it gives you nothing in return. Actually you get something in return but that is stress. Worrying more and more about the world and things you can’t change. The first paragraph of this section of the essay speaks volumes: “Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months name one that because you consumed it allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career, your business compared to what you would have known if you hadn’t swallowed that morsel of news.” The likely answer is: None!

Six states that “news inhibits thinking”. The point is that in order to actually store the information we read into longterm memory our brains need startup time. We need to get into a certain flow to acquire understanding of the information we are processing. According to the article this startup phase takes about 10 minutes. Because of it’s very nature the short news samples we consume don’t let us do this. News items are usually short, and maybe even then we don’t read all text in them. In this mode it simply becomes impossible to gain deeper understanding. And because news distracts it also kills already running understanding processes from a more important task.

Fifteen explains how “news kills creativity”. That one hits home as I feel very limited in the creativity space lately. It seems there are two main reasons why news consumption limits creativity. I take the liberty here to paraphrase this section : First news presents a certain world view. Starting from this view instead of a blank slate already pushes your mind into a certain mode. You will search for solutions within this confined space. Secondly the distraction from the invasive news flashes will kill your creative flow.

There are many other interesting arguments to be found in the paper but repeating it was not the goal of my blog post. The relevant question at this point is : now what? I have decided to accept the challenge and for now quit consuming the general news. Let’s see how it works out. For now I make an exception for tech news by the way. I read too much in certain communities to avoid the tech news in my niches.


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