What I did:
I opted out of mainstream and referral sourced news and journalism, including social media, for three months. I did frequent YouTube, but mainly to watch sport highlights and film trailers, Mortal Kombat in particular. Twelve times. Get Over Here, April 15.
Why I did it:
I reached a point where it was consistently giving me the sh*ts. This was not a planned social experiment or protest or some cool thing that cool people do to demonstrate their coolness. It upset me, so I broke up with it.
For a long time, I have found the state and intent of modern news and journalism excruciatingly frustrating. The bias and need to monetize every story has become more insufferable than the value I receive from the story itself.
I acknowledge that the problem is mine.
It is becoming harder to find factual reports rather than spun versions of events – every story has to incite a call to action by way of a share, a like, a comment, opposition, or in some way, an engagement, which means that reporting facts is not enough. Every story needs to be modified to make it more engageable. If it is engageable already, it needs to be squeezed for all its worth for as long as it can be. And then when it is just about done, give it another squeeze.
When you consider the immense power and reach of news outlets, the potential for doing good is immeasurable. But doing good is hard and not terribly profitable so instead, we have this other version. The amount of garbage that needs to be trawled through to find worthwhile content has become too cumbersome to persist with.
It pisses me off because it is a constant reminder of how incredible it could be. I guess like if you had a good mate that became a junkie, or a real estate agent. Seeing them would be upsetting because you would be reminded of how great they could be, but how they chose otherwise.
If demand for factual reporting declines and the ability to sell subscriptions and advertising falls, modifying the product (the news) is needed so that these businesses (the media) can stay in the game. I understand this concept. But equally, this is why I needed less of this.
How It Was Done:
I avoided watching, reading, or listening to news and current affairs sources, programs, shows and podcasts where I had the choice to do so. I used apps to block news sites just in case my habitual clicking took me to a source that I would later regret. In some cases, it was unavoidable, like waiting in a reception area of a hotel or medical clinic. But where I had control of the situation, I stayed away from it.
I still sought out independent articles or content if it related to a subject matter of interest from sources other than mainstream news outlets, but general or passive consumption of news, sports, and weather events was avoided.
What I learnt:
There were three noticeable outcomes:
1. The trade-off of missing out on important content vs being spared large volumes of rubbish was worth it. In three months, there has been nothing critical that I have missed out on. But being spared from the deluge of publisher bias, speculation, click-baitery, and celebrity irrelevance has resulted in a clearer state of mind.
In our office, we talk about allowing for white-space to surround problems we are trying to solve or ideas we are trying to incubate so that we have “space” mentally to work in. Cutting out “news” has allowed for more white-space and in that, more efficient thought-smithing.
2. The quality of conversations is better.
Most conversations we have with people we know consist of both parties comparing details to common stories. Both parties are effectively hosts in the conversation.
Without the news, I was a guest to most stories and vice-versa. If the other conversation participant shared news content with me, it was likely the first time I had heard it, so I would ask questions and have them explain the story to me. All of my stories were based on random sh*t that I had been doing so equally, they would ask questions of me. Or find excuses to stop participating.
It was a different dynamic to how modern conversation exchange usually goes.
3. My general measures of perspective, tolerance, and concentration are noticeably more positive. There are fewer external influences on my state of mind meaning that what I think or how I feel about something is less reflective of a build up of external content, and more authentic.
What did I miss?
Nothing, really. As it is, I spend a lot of time reading and researching matters relating to my industry, technology, and about health and wellness. And there are things I like to know about other particular areas of interest. But this is information that I chase rather than having it served at me.
And I kinda feel like choosing to “miss out” brings a small sense of peacefulness that I didn’t know I had access to. Again, this was not the point of the exercise, more of a participation medal.
I know that if we try hard enough we can tether any news story to our own circumstances and make it relevant, but what value does that provide? Is knowing the story worth the space it takes up?
Not taking in the news has been wonderful. The conversations I have been having with people are more interesting, and the reduction in brain cookies has made decision making and thinking in general less cluttered.
I see people most days which makes me think I will never miss out on anything essential, but even if I do, maybe it is worth it to be free of the clutter that finding out in real-time brings. It certainly provides more space with which to think of and plan other weird sh*t.