Reading the news is surprisingly harmful. Here’s why…
The book that inspired me
I still vividly remember when I was in secondary school, my economics teacher told the class to stop reading the news. To be more specific, he stopped reading the news some point in time and he encouraged us to do the same.
It was shocking to a teenager to hear this piece of advice the first time, as our formal education always encouraged us to read the news daily, as much as possible, in order to broaden our knowledge and understanding to the world.
I never really put this advice in heart as time passed. Until I came across this book again at a bookstore.
“Stop Reading The News: A Manifesto for a Happier, Calmer and Wiser Life ” is an argumentative book written by Rolf Dobelli (Author of the best seller philosophic book “The Art of Thinking Clearly” (paid link)). In this little book of around 160 pages, Rolf aims to persuade us that reading the news in modern days is unhelpful, and even damaging to our lives.
Through 35 short chapters, Rolf sets out his philosophy that we should abandon reading the news, and we should act quickly by doing so NOW.
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5 reasons why you should stop reading the news
I summarize my 5 core learning from the book into “5 strong reasons” that you should stop reading the news. Let’s begin:
1. News is IRRELEVANT
Rolf suggested, and I agree, that one compelling reason why we should quit reading the news is because they are irrelevant to us.
Most people will counter this argument by believing that news is relevant as they enhance our knowledge about our surroundings and keep us informed. However Rolf easily debunked this counter-argument by an experiment he suggested in later part of the book (Chapter 30 Not Convinced?).
Rolf suggested us to get a piece of paper and divide it up into various columns. Number the columns from left to right representing the last ten years (2012, 2013… etc). Then draw a horizontal line through the middle which splits the columns into halves.
On the upper end, write down the most important news you can recall from that year. For example, 2012 Barrack Obama was reelected as President of USA, 2016 Summer Olympics were held in Rio, etc.
Then on the lower end, write down the major developments you went through in life, for example graduating, getting married, giving birth, getting a promotion, starting a website, etc.
Subsequently, consider if the news report (from upper end) directly influenced the developments in your life (in lower end). If they do have any direct relevance, you may draw a line to connect them.
How many lines did you manage to draw? If there is none, do not worry.
Most people cannot draw a single connecting line. Meaning that news reports operate in parallel universes as our individual lives.
The revelation from this experiment struck me wordless. Please do try out this experiment too. I am not sure if you arrive at the same result as I do, but I bet you are a bit like me, like most people.
2. News wastes time
Just out of curiosity, have you ever wondered how much time you have used in reading the news every day?
For me, I used to have a habit of reading the news during my commute to work every day. The entire ride is around 45 minutes, so every weekday that would be around 3.7 hours of my time. Give it a year, that would easily accumulate to almost 8 whole days, let alone the other time I would spend reading news at occasions like at work or for leisure!
The author went on further to elaborate that we also lose extra time in refocusing our attention due to the distraction by news and the lingering interruption news give to our train of thoughts.
I did some quick math, if we spend 2 hours per day on news that would be around 30 days of our time in one year.
Just imagine the impact of freeing up 1 month of your life every year to engage in something more meaningful.
If news is not of the importance or relevance we thought they used to be, then to free up the time spent on reading news appears to be a sensible choice to us.
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3. News encourages passivity
If you intentionally pay more attention, you will start to feel that the news you read everyday are out of your control. Train accidents, political unrests, technological breakthroughs, celebrity events, etc. Most news you read about are out of your reach.
Rolf argued that the vast amount of news that get into our brain actually promotes passive behaviors. He describes the situation when our brains understand we cannot possibly act on certain information, we are wired to suppress our course of actions. This is called “learned helplessness”.
Learned helplessness is harmful in a way that we get used to the feeling of being passive, and this state will easily extend to our attitude towards other life aspects like how we treat our family, friends and jobs.
A HAPPY LIFE is a life where you have control over.
Growing passive and pessimistic about life is definitely not going to us happier.
It appears beneficial to us to cut off news intake as much as possible if we follow this logic.
4. News is addictive (in a bad way)
If you have ever installed newsfeed applications on your smartphone, then you must know how it feels to scroll through the news on and on for hours.
You can just keep scrolling from pages to pages, in hope to find various information to stuff into your brain. Subconsciously we wanted to learn something useful so our brain would keep searching from one headline to another. These news applications are all designed to let you easily navigate and keep you going.
We may tell ourselves that we will stop after the next piece of news, but we easily get distracted by another news headline following up. We cannot simply stop because we are addicted to reading news. What worst is after all the time spent, most news we read are of no value or irrelevant. I regard this sort of addictive behavior to be addictive in a bad way.
Personally, getting addictive to some behaviors is not necessarily bad. Addiction is the process of getting yourself into developing a great habit. However, if you were to choose, would you prefer getting addicted to reading something more rewarding (likes books) or reading toxic news?
The answer should be obvious.
5. News stresses our mind
Out of commercial consideration, the modern-day news publisher’s key goal is to catch your attention and keep you “hooked” or entertained.
If we pay closer attention, then it is not hard to observe that we are often fed with negative news instead of positive ones in today’s news.
What caused the development of this reporting trend? It is because psychologically, most people build deeper impressions on negative news than positive news.
Consider two hypothetical news headlines below:
- Earthquake in [place] kills tens of thousands of people and body counts expected to climb over the next few days
- Experts at [place] had a breakthrough to develop a quick earthquake detection mechanism to prepare for the unknown
As a reader, which one would you possibly click on to read more? I bet most of you will choose the first one, the one with the apparent more alarming and impactful message. When you read more news every day, your intake of these negative news will keep increasing unnoticeably.
Similar to a chronic disease, these negative sources of information will gradually bring stress to our mind and cause us to detour from searching for a peace of mind.
After reading the 5 strong reasons as set out above, are you convinced that to quit reading the news is a sensible choice for our life?
My personal sharing is that it’s practically very tough to quit news reading right from today, as the exercise of reading news appears so “normal” to us. The idea of “everyone should be reading the news” has been hard-wired to our brains since we were kids through education, and regarded as a necessary and good practice. It’s always very difficult for a person to change habits, especially ones which were developed many years ago.
The good news, however, is that you can always change your addiction if you have enough determination. We can start slowly and cut down consuming the news gradually. You can read more about habit formation in my learning from Atomic Habits.
After reading the book, I am now trying to cut down my consumption in reading the news too. I encourage you to also do the same. I shall end this post by quoting a paragraph from the book:
Thank you for your time in reading this post and I hope you have learnt something from this reading.
Please like, comment, share and subscribe to Calm Reading which will help the site grow. Until next time!
Further read the book…
If you are a person who liked to consider matters from different angles, including ideas which may make your feel uncomfortable, then you would enjoy reading this book.
But do not be mistaken by my words above, this is far from being any heavy book which will stress your mind when reading (else it will not be recommended at Calm Reading!).
Rolf sets out his arguments in a light, humorous tone which make you easy to digest his lines of thoughts. At the end of the book, even if you do not entirely agree with all the points raised by Rolf, you will feel you have had a good ride and enhanced your knowledge on the matter.
In my opinion, “Stop Reading the News” is full of wisdom and I strongly encourage you to own a copy and read it.
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