A life without media

As I had to work abroad for the past two months I had no time to consume any kind of media. Neither television, radio or internet. The only source for information was talking to locals, coworkers and an occasional look on my twitter feed. What I learned from that was quite surprising.

When I started to get interested into media and how information-telling works I came upon a lot of critical voices towards how TV news are represented to the public. Especially in Germany we have a lot of biased information on world politics and when it comes to elections, because the structure of German mediacompanies seems to be very centralized. As the world wide web started to play an increasingly bigger role in every day lifes, the critical voices about news on TV got louder and louder.

There was a coverage on the gamescom in 2011 from a private channel — called RTL, which had been one of the most-viewed channels and biggest private companies at that time — that depicted gamers as a big group of fat, lazy and ugly kids, who are neither able to take care of themselves nor able to socialize at all. This created an insanely big outrage on social media (where I gladly joined the shitstorm). The program, that aired this report at last apologized publicly for the insults.

As this was my first encounter with wrong depiction of reality (a “stereotypization” and “overdrawing” as the hoster calls it), because it was a semi-serious programm and aired on a private channel, one could argue “gamers” and the like, simply overreacted, because they felt insulted. But when it comes to politics or socially relevant topics, overdrawing, steretypization, bias or other distortions of reality can become a serious problem. They not only influence the opinions of consumers and build up a biased picture of the globalized world but actualy change the behaviour to and communication between real people.

I encountered this several times with topics related to Russia or Japan. Since I was born in Kazachstan, my culture is rooted in Russia, and my family came to Germany when I was seven, I had to deal with identity problems, ethnicity questions and explainations about my nationality every day. But the medial coverage on Russia in Germany really hasn’t eased up the process. For everyone who isn’t living in Germany: German media coverage on Russia had been negatively biased at least since the Fall of the Wall of Berlin. Russia is associated with being a generally communist country and most of all ‘the biggest rival of the west’. People come up to me until today asking wether “they have roads, cars or any computers there?!” (FYI yes they do, and they got a lot of imports from Japan, Korea and China concerning electronics and cars especially. Also they have WiFi everywhere unlike Germany, that hasn’t managed to build a decently working network up to this year :). Japan, on the other hand, has always fascinated me mediawise — to be honest because of their popculture, who am I kidding? It seemed to me like a different world, when I stumbled upon a lot of articles on architecture, society and the culture of Japan. In university I got to learn, that this feeling wasn’t unintentional of the Japanese government, since it became their “brand” to be very orientalistic and ‘different’.

However, all this led me to a point where I started to question every information, that aired on TV. Instead I turned to reading articles on the internet. I was informing myself through social media and keeping up to date through friends, twitter and self-established blogs. I learned about the filter-bubble and educated myself about the right use of information and how to be as little biased as possible.

Until this point I had no idea how uneducated, manipulated and biased I have actually become.

The internet became an excuse to get into the same patterns, TV produced previously. Information became more a tool of socializing or entertainment or an excuse to tell myself I am doing something productive. I am not procrastinating — I am informing myself about the world, right? I am not getting biased, since I am always questioning what I’m reading about, right? I can’t get too emotionally involved in this, since I got educated on how not to, right? Wrong! All of these assumptions were bullshit.

You won’t learn ANYTHING about the real world, unless you actually go out there and learn what you need to learn.

What happened in the past sixty days was that I only got information that I needed to get. It was about practical skills or situations. Because of my work I drive over the border to England a lot of times. I also need to take care of big groups of children as they take the tube in London. So for that, I kind of needed to know what impacts the Brexit had on my work. The local situation concerning the immigrants from Syria was also impacting my situation. I required this information because of my work, not because it was in the top 10 hashtags on Twitter or aired 24/7 on the news.

As I went on without any input on what’s going on in the world, I could observe how others, who did read newspapers or online magazines almost daily, led their conversations on different issues. Most of the time their arguments were without context, often a rephrase of what has been written in the article they read before. They also clustered some experiences and pieces from other infos, they previously read, into the main agruments of the newest piece of information. They neither seem to have the ability to think for themselves nor the ability to reset. To look at a problem without any biases.

  • Actually this is what I learned the most, I think. To take a step out of a conversation or argumentation and let my opinion form on a basis, that is as neutral to reality as possible — I might even do pro-contra list myself first, and look at how information from outside fits into that afterwards. Eventually I learned that my pros or cons don’t make any sense, but also I might spot a lie or completely illogical connection between two points.
  • Another thing that struck me was how little of importance “news” actually are. Yes, they might be interesting and important to see, if there’s a serial-killer in your town. But when that’s the case this information will spread to you anyways (may it be through friends or relatives). I am not saying here that you need to quit reading anything completely. But most of us definetly give too much shit about what’s going on in “the world” and not enough about what’s going on in their actual lives. Contrary to popular believe, those two are not interwoven at all.

You see, with so much information nowadays it’s just not possible to attempt to “get it all” or maybe pretend to have better view over the world with as much information as possible. Instead it’s so much more effective to look at reality at first. You got all the receptors you need to grasp reality as it is. You don’t need the internet or the news to tell you that in front of you is a glass of water, why you should drink it and how often. Just try it out and you might find 8 glasses a day is too much or not enough for you, anyways, is that even important to you right now? Are you into nutrition or are you trying to concentrate on something else?? Why are you even reading about water right now?
The key questions here are: What do I actually wanna know about? What information should I stick to and why? How might this news help me in the future? Setting up goals first and reading while looking for them, helps you to gather information non-biasedly, more independently and most of all builds up a stronger understanding and memory on what you’re reading, because you always do so in a certain context.

This article got waay longer than I expected, but the topic on reading and gathering information has concerned me for quiet a while and I haven’t even purposely quit on consuming news or articles. It is a great feeling to notice how small changes influence ones productivity and thinking patterns.
Stay simple, until next time!