The end of a quasi news embargo
Almost two years ago I began a quasi news embargo. This was a divergent step to take in a way when I think about how pervasive news has been in my life. I have at times said the sound of my childhood is perhaps best reflected through that of public radio. Family road trips had music but even more so I remember the names of reporters being rattled off and intro music being played at the top of the hour. In my younger years it was more background noise but certainly became front and center as I aged along with other readings.
But over the past four of five years though my interest in the news began to feel different. As vitriol and polarity became louder I felt my interest to be engaged lessen. When I read or listened to the news I found my stress levels increasing rather than feeling my curiosity satisfied. In addition to that, the pervasiveness of the smartphone and it’s ability to distract was at fever pitch. The frequency with which you would be with someone or a group of people and yet their attention was lost on the device seemed backwards. News from outlets or updates from friends did not become more important suddenly just easier to access and harder to step away. Smartphones, social media and the news seemed to be converging in a way that not only heightened my own anxiety but also pulled on my attention span and that of friends and family when I was with them.
I began to wonder what it would be like if I walked away from breaking news. What steps could I take to reduce/eliminate *ALERTS* and devote more time and attention to the people in my life and things that were better researched as opposed to “breaking”. While I knew from the get go my first experiment would not be perfect, I decided to switch from interacting with the news everyday to only on Sundays’ by way of the New York Times Sunday paper. Political leanings aside, I knew only accessing one source would bring a bias but wondered what I might learn and take in by reading as opposed to rapidly scrolling headlines online.
After a couple months I began to ask, “what if I just stopped following the news altogether?” Was this irresponsible? Could I be a reasonably-engaged citizen if I kept up with occasional magazine pieces that were more well researched and discussed local issues but didn’t follow them incessantly? And so that is what I did.
To be clear: there was never a full on firewall keeping me from the news but I missed large swaths of it completely. If I didn’t know about a school shooting for several days or a plane crash was this irresponsible? If I had known about it, is there an action I would have taken based on that information? I have lived in this semi-insular news environment for the past 18 months or so.
At the beginning of this year one of the things I have affirmed to get even better control over is social media consumption. While I have never felt wholly consumed by it, I am prone like many people to reach for these platforms when I feel bored or have five extra minutes while waiting. Now I have “social media Saturdays”, where I’m allowed to use them as much as I like, which honestly isn’t all that much, on Saturday but leave it alone the rest of the week. If I feel like posting something, it can wait until Saturday because of course, none of this is life or death. Side note: I post things like this to social media through my website which I don’t count.
With a much better handle on social media now accompanied by a recent conversation while on a date I have decided it’s time to update my news policy. There never was anything bad about being informed but the places I was increasingly getting my news, Facebook as an example, was more impacting how it was reaching me.
I’m interested to see what comes back into my life with more regular coverage. I will be aware of what channels I let back in and let them back in slowly so I do not suddenly have so much to take in I am distracted or overwhelmed by the content. I think the past 18 months have been rich with great learning and experiences that have not been related to the news but I am ready to again have that as part of my lens.
Is this any kind of miraculous discovery? Not really but I think I had to undertake the adventure in order to get my hands around it.