Friday, 22 April 2011

Go 30 days without news

I'm a bit of a news junkie, waking up to radio news most days. When I go away on holiday, I tend to stop following the news. When I get back I invariably find I haven't missed anything important. Maybe that means I should do something to control my addiction. Rolf Dobelli gives a few more reasons to kick the news habit, most of them pretty convincing. To paraphrase:

  • News focuses on visible and dramatic stories, crowding out the more subtle but probably more important things that are going on.
  •  Most news is irrelevant - in the last year, how many news items helped you to make a better decision about something that was important in your life? My guess is 'not many.' 
  •  We waste too much of our limited attention trying to follow an endless stream of decontextualised news bubbles, losing mental space and the important skills of concentration, focus and analysis.
  • When did a news story last change your mind about an important issue? My guess here would be 'not recently?' If the news you consume isn't challenging your assumptions about the world, is it really informing you or is it just feeding cognitive errors like confirmation bias and story bias (our preference for an explanatory narrative even when the truth is that nobody really knows the full facts)?
  •  If you don't know that a large proportion of 'news' is actually PR, opinion or propaganda, you'll be misled. If you do know this, the more news you consume, the more exhausting the process of trying to separate truth from spin.

On top of all that, Rolf Dobelli says:

'Reported facts are sometimes wrong, forecasts always.'

'News stories are overwhelmingly about things you cannot influence. This sets readers up to have a fatalistic outlook on the world.'

'News kills creativity. Things we already know limit our creativity. This is one reason that mathematicians, novelists, composers and entrepreneurs often produce their most creative works at a young age. They are oblivious to much that has been tried before. Their brains enjoy a wide, uninhabited space that emboldens them to come up with and pursue novel ideas.'
Read the whole thing here.

I don't think I'll be going completely cold turkey for 30 day, but I will try to cut out deliberate news consumption for two or three days a week, just to see if it frees up some head space. But not before I've fired up Google Reader to see what's new on my favourite blogs. I can stop whenever I want to, honest...



Stephen Nottingham said...

Thanks for pointing out this interesting article on the news. I read Flat Earth News by Nick Davies recently and can recommend that for its insights into how the news is shaped.