Consuming lots of news can make you a more informed citizen—or a neurotic zombie
If there were a Twelve Step program to alleviate an addiction to news, I might qualify for membership. I already have had to deal with two types of addictions—booze and nicotine—so it’s not much of a stretch that my well-nigh obsessive, daily consumption of news could be a sign of another addiction.
Like other addictive behaviors, there is an initial upside to following current events, particularly national politics, just like a sip of good wine can enhance a good meal and stimulate conversation.
But beyond a certain point, too much is too much, and no matter where you stand on the right/left political spectrum, a news addiction locks you in a self-confirming bubble that distorts rather than informs, and undermines the rational exchange of ideas a democracy needs to function.
So to mark two occasions—New Year’s Eve and my birthday on December 30—I have launched a personal campaign to avoid reading, watching, discussing or otherwise wasting time on news that might affect my mental health.
I can’t guarantee for how long my willpower will restrain my natural curiosity. For instance: I wonder what’s in the Trump’s tax returns that we’ve been salivating over for six years? Hmm. Can I resist?
Unwittingly, Stew and I had already weaned ourselves from TV news, except for non-political fare, like the death of Queen Elizabeth II; the whereabouts of the Webb Space Telescope; nature documentaries; or curious political events rendered innocuous by distance, such as British Prime Minister Liz Truss’s contest with a head of lettuce over which would wilt and get tossed aside first. The lettuce outlasted Ms. Truss’s premiership.
In particular, Stew and I have pulled away from the evening cable news programs where political coverage morphs into partisan drivel peppered with commentary by bobbleheads who are supposed to enlighten the viewers with their expertise, while the moderators nod gravely and toss softball questions.
Viewers with progressive political tendencies huddle around CNN or MSNBC, while the opposite group navigates toward Fox News. Each side gets a booster shot to remind them of the rightness and righteousness of their angst about the dire state of the nation.
I confess that on occasion I have peeked at Fox News, particularly after major political events, to hear how it twists its news coverage to conform to its ideological agenda. They seldom disappoint: On the heels of the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by hordes who could not abide that their candidate and savior, Donald Trump, had actually lost the election, Fox commentator Laura Ingraham promptly blamed “radical antifa” elements for the riot, even though there was no evidence then—nor has anyone dug up any evidence since—that was the case. As with other instances of its fabulist reporting, Fox didn’t offer any subsequent corrections, clarifications or explanations.
But it is the internet, and news that travel through it, that has turned me into a political junkie and threatens my sanity. First thing in the morning I turn to my Kindle tablet to check on the New York Times, Washington Post and the Guardian’s U.S. edition, and get my first shot of political news. Then, throughout the day, I will get emails from The Atlantic and the New Yorker magazines, and additional commentary and interpretation from sites like Politico.com and Slate, to fill any still tranquil space left in my brain. Slate’s led the news yesterday with “Republicans in Disarray.” Whoopie. I also subscribe to a newsletter by progressive commentator Robert Hubbell, who gathers threads of political events from various sources and weaves them into a daily liberal epistle.
According to some analysts—operating mostly on the internet, naturally—the nonstop barrage of bad news, has caused a marked increase in depression and anxiety among Americans, particularly during the pandemic lockdown. The phenomenon of doomscrolling has emerged, particularly among far right- and left-wingers who fish for conspiracies and far-out explanations to explain a political atmosphere that seems to them to be spinning out of control.
Exhibit A for doomscrolling would be the January-February 2023 issue of The Atlantic that I just received, with a cover cheerfully titled “Notes from the Apocalypse.” The first two featured stories are “The People Cheering for Humanity’s End,” and a longish profile of U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the most annoying wacko on the political landscape second only to Trump himself. If that doesn’t send me into some emotional tailspin, there’s also a story about “The Real Reason American Progress Has Stalled.”
Mercy. It is this kind of reading that might jeopardize my nearly 40-year-long stint of sobriety.
Problem is that extrapolations and analyses of political news often go beyond mere facts and into speculation. Democrats were biting their fingernails before the midterm elections, expecting a red wave of Republican victories that would cement an authoritarian trend and possible victory for Trump in the 2024 presidential elections. The opposite happened—read all about it—and now the Republicans are the ones biting their nails.
Where to begin? For starters, I have unsubscribed from Politico.com, Slate.com and Robert Hubbell’s epistolaries. Zot!
Then there’s the more delicate task of curating what I read in the dailies. In yesterday’s New York Times, you had to gloss over the daily details about the war in Ukraine; updates on political loonies like George Santos and Elise Stefanik; and the machete attack on two policemen near Times Square.
Instead I would read Nick Kristof’s cheery predictions for 2023. He writes: “Enough with the doom and gloom! Our planet may be in better shape than you think.” I agree. Or the paper’s “7-day Happiness Wellness Challenge.” Hint: You need to make more friends.
For its part, The Washington Post has a twice weekly newsletter called The Optimist, with “[a] selection of inspiring stories to help you disconnect, hit refresh and start the week off right.” Or today’s article on how to eat more vegetables, something you should do regardless of your political affiliation.
Yesterday I sampled a news app from the Canadian Broadcasting System, which carried feel-good stories about an organization in British Columbia that rehabilitates grizzly bear cubs and another group in Manitoba that is donating hockey equipment to keep kids in Kyiv, and those who have fled to Canada, interested in the sport despite the war with Russia. That’s Canadian optimism for you.
14 thoughts on “I read no news today, oh boy!”
I agree with you that American news is deadly. But I’m addicted to Mexican news, especially San Miguel news. There is a drama going on in San Miguel about a broadened sidewalk and tourist buses. And another drama about a restaurant that has the best location in San Miguel. Check them out!
Hi Pat: That is an excellent suggestion. I used to work for a newspaper in Chicago and can speak and read Spanish fluently, yet I am pretty well ignorant about news in Mexico, let along San Miguel specifically. Any suggestions? Mexico Daily News? Atención? Thank you!
Yes, Mexico Daily News and Atención. Also SMAFAQ.
I’m a luddite. I read papers made out of trees, very little of the stuff pouring out of the ether. I watch CBS Evening News a few days a week if I’ve packed it in early-I think Nora works well in my age group… As to the rest, my aunt sends me a little digital, two Brits I correspond with send me stuff from overseas and I subscribe to Foreign Affairs and The Economist; paper again. I’ve unfriended every knucklehead I know on Facebook, a good number of them croaked from covid; antivacanation people tend to be knuckleheads.
As to the state of the world: it is a lot better than when I was a kid. We were hiding under our desks as a regular thing when I was in elementary school. Lots of our neighbors were still using out houses, a few had hard pan dirt floors, hand pumps in the kitchen if they were lucky. The old man next door had to go outside and get his water from a hand pump in his yard. He died cutting firewood down on the riverbank. He cooked on a wood stove, made flapjacks that were actually flipped in the air. Back then, if your heart acted up, you usually got a dirt bath. I could go on and on-we have it pretty gravy.
Happy New Year to you and Stew, give Felix my regards.
I have given up on paper-and-ink newspapers because I can’t get them in Mexico, and recently the broadsheets have shrunk to tabloid size and the type seems to be getting smaller, all to save on paper. Or am I imagining things? I’m impressed you get Foreign Affairs and the Economist; that’s some heavy reading, particularly the Economist which comes at you weekly, if I recall. It has terrific obituaries, very well written and often witty, as articles about the recently deceased can be, anyway.
Though you belong to the generation before me, the technological advances during both of our lifetimes have been amazing. I remember reading about trips to the moon as purely the stuff of science fiction, and now we have spaceships going beyond Neptune and Pluto. The pictures from the Webb telescope are astonishing, even though for the most I don’t fully understand what they depict. Have a happy new year. Felix is out chopping wood and thanking his lucky stars he’s not freezing his butt off in Texas.
The Economist is a good read. The FT too. It’s a shame they’re both so bloody expensive. And neither get covered in Apple News subs or similar.
Hello Gary: Sorry I didn’t respond to your comment sooner. The Economist is a good read, particularly their obituaries, but waay more than I can digest on a weekly basis. I’ve never read the Financial Times. At the other extreme is Twitter where you get snippets, some thoughtful or interesting, but little more. For the time being I’ve pruned my reading list, and skim over stuff that is over the top. Thanks for your comments.
I only get my news from comedians. If we must know what’s going on better to get it with a laugh and try not to take it too hard. News is delivered nightly by Jimmy Kimmel, Steven Colbert, Jimmy Fallon in their monologues.
That’s no joke: I think starting with Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, and later with Jimmy Fallon, there are millions of people who get the news from comedy and late night shows. Stewart was particularly brilliant, and I think he has a new show somewhere, though I haven’t seen it. Thanks for your comments.
This is completely off-topic, but I had to tell you this. Over Christmas I was talking to a fellow at a small party. When I mentioned that I was going to move to Mexico, he told me that he used to work at the Chicago Tribune with a guy that now lives in San Miguel de Allende. I said that I read his blog all the time. He doesn’t know if you would remember him, but his name is Wayne.
Sure. Wayne Faulkner. We worked at the Tribune pretty much at the same time.
Twitter is a great way to read the news Al. For the moment anyway. Musk may yet trash the platform.
For all the weirdos and loons that populate Twitter, there’s a ton of interesting folk posting, linking and sharing on Twitter. You can curate your own sort of news feed.
OK, if you insist, I try Twitter. I actually have a Twitter account but never post anything. It might take some doing to figure whom I should follow, though.
Your favorite journalists? Add them. They’ll likely share their articles on Twitter with links. And share stuff they think is worth reading.