Why I avoid news like I avoid wheat

Because like wheat in my body, news causes inflammation in my mind. It triggers a response of, Oh no. Uh oh. Woah. Ah man. Really? Again? Dang. Shit. That sucks. And on and on, until my head is just buzzing.

Like gluten in my joints, it causes aching in my spirit. I ask myself, am I any better from hearing this? Am I any worse?

Seth Godin says news is “previously unknown. When it’s breaking, it propels itself even harder, because we know that we’re about to hear something previously unheard.” Newspapers may have faded, but the internet feeds us news like never before.

How many times do we need to hear of the same unfortunate things that happen? Henry David Thoreau wrote, “if we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked… or one mad dog killed… we never need read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?”

Does hearing these things over and over add any value to life? Is it necessary for our well being to know every time? Are we being inconsiderate of all the people in this world by not looking for instances of misfortune? Perhaps. Are we being ignorant by knowing just once that something bad has occurred? By some definitions, yes.

But I can be satisfied hearing it just once, and knowing that it might happen often. I can understand the chances of something going wrong for me without having to read about it elsewhere every day.

Thoreau reflects on this craving for news. “After a night’s sleep the news is as indispensable as the breakfast… ‘Pray tell me anything new that has happened to a man anywhere on this globe.’”

My convictions about news were made more solid hearing Tim Ferriss talk about his “low information diet”. He limits the amount of information he feeds himself – whether directly or indirectly.

Ferriss distinguishes “need to know” from “just in case” information. He looks for information he needs to know to make a decision. Contrast this with constantly consuming information just in case he needs it in the future.

I learned the concept of “decision fatigue” from Tim Ferriss as well. The concept that we have a limited amount of power per day to make decisions. That we have a bank of decision-making units, and that the harder, or more drawn out, or higher-stakes decisions cost more, but the smaller, seemingly inconsequential, and less acknowledged decisions also take up much of our resources.

It’s the small, less impactful decisions we struggle over all day every day that drain our energy away from making the bigger decisions. This leads to Ferriss’ principle of the “choice minimal lifestyle”.

The choice minimal lifestyle is the mode of allowing fewer options to require less mind power to decide. We save more mind power, attention, and presence for enjoying life after that decision. We can simplify and cut down the time it takes to choose something.

So yes, I could make predictions of the market, escape to Mars before the next world war, be ready to discuss the last tragic death of a teenager, worry about how long my current computer will be current. But those things take mind energy away from the purpose of my own life.

Let the news writers write, let the gossipers gossip, let the Facebook feed roll. We’ll be steadfast in the choice of information to power our dreams.

Live powerfully,

Steve

Links

Walden: or, Life in the Woods

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich

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2 thoughts on “Why I avoid news like I avoid wheat”

  1. I’ve read all your posts. While I don’t practice everything you preach. Okay I practice very little of what you preach. Okay, I practice very little of what you preach very few days out of the month… I haven’t disagreed with you on any particular part and have been interested in some of the topics. Until now… dun dun dun…

    As children growing up in the Bay Area, we’ve been immune to everything that goes on in the world, whether we want to acknowledge that or not. The only tragedies that have really affected us was the dot com bust in 2000 (which the Silicon Valley fueled and tragedy might be a stretch). Maybe to a lesser extent the Loma Prieta Earthquake of ’89. But that didn’t affect us as much in the South Bay. We grew up with little care to the rest of the world. I remember 9’11. We were sophomores in high school then. I went to school that morning and the only thing people were talking about was basketball or whatever else kids those days talked about. I thought it was the saddest thing in the world that people couldn’t get out of this bubble around them and take interest in things that lay just on the other side of their backyard fence. Why did I join the military? Our world is small. What happens in Afghanistan deserves our attention. Think about it. They are people like us who just so happened to have drawn the short stick and born there instead of here. They could have easily been you or me. Being so helpless, wouldn’t you want others to know what your country is going through if you were there? It’s not people with money losing money there. It’s people losing lives because they refuse to fight, or break one law or refuse to heed to corrupt people in power. It’s people losing their lives because there is no medical care and sustenance isn’t as plenty as it is here for them to choose how they feed themselves. I still remember that one Afghani dad in a remote village who brought his suffering daughter to our surgeon for medical care. She was malnourished, suffering from what our surgeon thought was TB and looked like a frail new born. But she was two and at two years old, her cranium was still malleable and separated. That was the moment I said, “Fuck all those anti-war protesters, fuck all those who spit and yell profanity at me and like cowards run off, fuck everyone who thinks I’m a baby killer or a murderer for voluntarily enlisting to go to war. This is why I’m here. And if they still think otherwise they can suck my…” Pinky toe, I was going to say pinky toe. Which oddly enough is the same size as my… umm… ahem… just kidding.

    You’re not alone in news avoidance. Sadly, I’ve found myself reading less and less news due to the media being unreliable and biased. US media is so fucked that I’ve looked towards Al Jazeera for my news. It’s crazy to think we have to look towards foreign news agencies for the best sources on both domestic and foreign issues. But my interests are still there in current events, especially the ones outside of my immediate surroundings. Why do you have to make a decision or expend exorbitant amounts of energy every time you hear something? It’s been four years since I left the military and still, when I hear of a service member dying, I read their short bio the military publishes. Not to get riled up or feel anything really, but because I can take a few minutes out of my day to read up on who they were. To quietly thank them. I can also take a few minutes out of my day to read what’s happening around the world. Again, not to get riled up or feel anything, but because our world is small and our neighbors across the pond or the Pacific or to the south (I guess Canada too up north… those Canadians…) are really our neighbors. And as people, we love… absolutely love… to gossip about our neighbors. You say, “Let the gossipers gossip,” but we’ll all listen.

    You ask is it going to make me a better person when reading about another heart breaking story in the news? Absolutely. Knowledge is power. While everybody says (read in sarcastic high pitched baby voice), “Well, its’ better to be wise than full of knowledge.” I say, “Shut the f—- ront door. You can’t be wise if you don’t know anything.” What happens elsewhere affects us. Globalization! It’s not just a business word. And it’s not just the misfortunes either. Everything… good, bad, miraculous to the down right sinister things all affect everybody to varying degrees or know someone who is affected by it.

    In the end, we cant know everything that’s going on, and you are right. One more person murdered in Oakland or Philadelphia isn’t going to have too much affect on my present life. But I also think that if we do read up on it, we aren’t wasting energy. Maybe it’s easier for me since I am already pretty callous and show little emotion to be bothered by bad news . China’s slowing economy and its impact to global business and the stock market. Human rights violations in many parts of the world (not just limited to developing countries) and how as American’s we contribute to those atrocities daily. Terrorism in Paris and Brussels (the ones everybody knows about because that’s what they choose to care about). Nobody pays attention to Tunisia, Ankara, Jakarta… well I do. I think others should too.

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