I’m Not Listening
It’s been a rough few weeks.
You know it and I know it. And we both know why.
I don’t think we need to get into that right now.
The point is that it’s been a rough few weeks, and it follows a rough few months, which follows a pretty rough year. And when I look for reasons why, I find that most of the tension and frustration I’ve felt has come into my life through the ridiculous amount of fast-breaking news I am exposed to.
A Cry for Help in the Night
I don’t just mean news shows. Heck, who even watches news shows these days? We all get our information as a massive droning hum over the internet, and the format is as irrelevant as the source. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish a television show from a webinar from a podcast from a blog from a newspaper article from a Facebook post from a desperate cry for help in the night.
When the level of urgent noise gets this high, it starts to feel as if none of it even matters. And it all does to someone, and should.
These chunks of perspective are all coming from people — or algorithmically generated simulations of people created by other people — who have something they’re trying to say.
And they all want to say it to me.
The Trade Isn’t Fair.
The means of production and distribution are in everyone’s hands now. As little as half an hour or so of one publisher’s time can translate into dozens, hundreds, even millions of hours of other people’s attention.
While they’re all competing for my attention — for our attention — nobody needs my attention more than I do. My attention is a valuable and limited commodity. The more of it I give out, the less I have for myself.
I don’t blame the creators. It’s not their fault. They’re doing their jobs, living their lives, and expressing themselves on matters they believe are of consequence. How well they’re doing it, what their agendas are, and whether they’re doing it with malice or not; those things don’t really matter. The point is that the playing field isn’t level, and this game is having an unbalanced and overwhelmingly negative effect on me.
Perhaps on all of us.
I wouldn’t want to try to limit anyone else’s right to make and share their ideas, but it’s time for me to do something about it for myself.
So I’ve decided to put myself on a diet. A fresh information fast. I’m going to make a conscious choice to limit my access to any broadcast source of ephemeral information, whether social or professional, in favor of more evergreen sources. If it was created within the last hour, the last day, even the last week, I need to ration my access to it.
That means saying goodbye to quick glimpses at the snarky wit on Twitter, what my friends are celebrating and complaining about on Facebook, and the insightful quips, philosophical analyses, and satirical takes on the news I’ve sucked substance and support from on a daily basis.
Things move quickly, but not as quickly as the amount of information we are exposed to regularly would imply. I think a week is a reasonable length of time to wait to decide if a bit of information is significant and relevant. Until it has proven itself worthy of at least a week’s worth of deeper analysis, I have to decide consciously that I don’t have the time to click.
Accepting Myself as a Media Addict
It’s probably going to be all the more difficult because I don’t live alone in this world. And the definition of alone has evolved along with the media we all use. As we’ve grown physically further apart and electronically closer together, much of our social life comes to us through these sources.
The dopamine-pumping responses I’ve become addicted to are formed on the basis of tapping into that constant flow, and then harmonizing with my friends as we trade fours and riff on each other’s solos. That’s dangerous. More dangerous than jazz.
That’s why this is something that I need to do now.
I need to see who I am outside of the influence of the constant rhythm of relentless updates in my life.
Privilege and Duty
I don’t take lightly the privilege of being able to do this. Not everyone can or should limit their exposure this way. I don’t pretend that I will be able to get away with it forever.
I hope I can do it long enough to heal and gain some strength and perspective.
But these are not usual times, and I know I have a responsibility to stay informed and play my part. For that reason, although I think it would be easier to go cold-turkey, I will portion out to myself up to 30 minutes once a day to skim the updates from all the usual sources. I think that will allow me to perform my social role, and participate and respond actively as our political and cultural landscapes seethe and bubble.
I don’t think I have the right to withdraw completely. But I do have to admit that I need to take care of myself. Taking care of yourself is the first step in taking care of the rest of the world.
If you want to help somebody, remember that you are somebody, and if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anybody.
What Are You Doing?
You’re welcome to join me if you like, but that’s not the point. I’m not looking to tell other people how they should control the way they consume information, or whether it makes sense for them. I certainly don’t want to imply that the way that I’m doing it is right for everybody.
What I’m doing may or may not even be right for me. And if it isn’t, I will adapt and iterate.
I fear that I may not even be able to do this much.
But I know something has to change. I have realized that I am the desperate voice in the night. And it’s time for me to pay attention to myself.
Wish me luck. We all need it.