I’ve done this exercise with my students 3 different times now…
‘Get your books out and in groups, write down the biggest news events of the past 20 years. You have 10 minutes… Go.’
After the ten minutes, I ask them, ‘Okay, how many of those are good news?’
They all smile or laugh, which means pretty much zero.
The students have no problem thinking of bad news. September 11, earthquakes, wars, tsunamis, blah blah fucking blah.
In the three times I’ve done it, there’s been a total of 65 bad news events students have come up with (Some of those have been repeats, but in the three classes, there’s been a total of 4 good news events they could name. and one of the 4 was ‘the invention of the smartphone’ with another being ‘Christiano Ronaldo winning the World’s best player award’. (The two others were pretty cool though: ‘the sequencing of the human DNA code’ and ‘Technological advances in medicine for people without hands, legs, vision or hearing’ etc.)
So what’s the definition of ‘news’? ‘Bad depressing bullshit that makes you anxious and panic and not want to travel or talk to foreigners or even go out the house’ seems pretty accurate to me.
I don’t watch or read or listen to the news at all. If it’s on the radio and I’m alone, I turn it down. The one problem with not watching it is that you don’t keep in touch with what’s going on in the world. But does it actually affect you at all?
Dr Money Mustache just wrote about this, in his post on the low-information diet. He also says in an addendum:
I should mention that while the news is a useless way to learn about the world, learning about the world itself is very useful. But this is best done by reading books – and maybe the odd scientific blog or journal or other periodical. I do still read most of the Economist every week or two, for example. The facts about the world don’t change on a daily basis, so by focusing on these slower and more well-researched sources of information, you filter out the noise and end up with the stuff that’s really worth learning.
So, watching the news may be a lazy way to learn about the world, where as reading books, blogs etc. for example, is maybe a better way to learn about it.
You can also ask others to fill you in on what’s going on. Just say, ‘What’s going in the news lately?’ and that way you avoid having to read news. (You’ll also find that people will struggle to tell you anything of consequence, so after a couple times, this exercise gets pretty boring quickly.)
How many things do we do that make us anxious and stressed that we don’t need to?
I agree that Environmental news matters, but you can be a good person without the news. And you can stay informed without the news too.
People do sometimes say, ‘Don’t you read the news?’ Like it’s my duty as a citizen to read depressing shit that makes me feel anxious and stressed and unhappy.
Maybe the news should be called something else.
If instead of ‘News’ it was called, say, “Depression for all” or “Anxiety or stress ahoy!” or “PANIC!!! PANIC!!!!’ Right now!!!!!” would people still feel they need to keep up to date with it?
If you have a mega pessimistic friend who, whenever you hang out, tells you nothing else but that everything sucks, terrorists are going to murder you, immigrants are gonna steal your job, drinking water causes cancer, everyone is trying to scam you, and the world is nothing but do you hang out with him everyday? Probably not, right. Probably you tell them ‘you’re depressing the fuck out of me’ and stop hanging out with them at all, because they make you feel like shit 99% of the time. And even if they tell you a light-hearted story before you leave them about a cute cat being rescued from a tree, is that worth all the bullshit before it? So why read the news everyday?
The student who named Ronaldo winning a trophy as good news actually illustrates a good point too. If you have to read news, reading sports news is totally different.
Former Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, Earl Warren said:
‘I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures.’
Sports news is of even less consequence than what is called actual news, but rarely does checking the latest scores make you think that your next trip to the shops could be your last because a terrorist could murder you.