I stopped reading the news. Here’s what I’ve experienced.
JOMO? FOMO? Or, should we call it IOMO?
3 weeks ago, I started an experiment. I stopped reading the news. While I had certain reasons for it, I also wanted to see (and test) if it was possible to exist without reading the news, and what changes as a result?
The Internet heralded the arrival of the Information Age. Moving on from machinery, information was going to be the new currency, the new skill and indeed the new “oil”. In the 90s when computers and internet entered common households, the benefits were palpable. We were better informed, informed faster and had a degree of global reach. Then social media arrived. It represented a new peak of internet enabled information gathering and communication. Soon, the peak turned into a landslide. Before we knew it, the double-edged sword of technology soon showed its other side. Information overload became a bigger issue than information gathering.
Today we are over-informed. Much more informed than we need to be. More informed with higher quantity and lower quality junk.
The D-I-K-W pyramid represents the cumulative progression from tangible data towards the more esoteric wisdom. In the past, we started mostly as the information “level”. Now, as data analytics advances, and as the need for sensational news increases, instead of going up from information towards knowledge, we’re instead dragged down towards consuming at the data level.
As the quantity and granularity of the information we consume has increased, quality has taken a significant downturn.
With consumption happening at the lower level (shorts, bytes, tweets, etc.) the level of quality and scrupulousness has suffered.
Business models have a major part to play. Media revenues are based on views. Views are monetized via advertising or subscriptions. A view-based business model needs to, by definition, press emotional buttons. Moreover, human psychology is hard-wired to pay more attention to bad news (to avoid bad outcomes) than good news. Into this psycho-economic brew, we add a catalyst called politics, along with its lobbies, vested interests and (hidden) paymasters. What we have is the state of media and information today.
Why I stopped reading the news
Today we are over-informed; informed way more than we need to be — and through sources which are not always credible. Information has gone from being a necessity to being a “necessary evil”. As quality suffers, it wanders more towards the “evil” aspect than “necessity”.
There is no objectivity in the media. Even the pretence is now shed. In my experience, most media today have a leftist or anarchist bias. Media, politics and technology, particularly Big Tech, then combine to silence or cancel or de-platform any views which don’t conform to the “chosen” narrative. Truth takes a back-seat to sensationalism. Analysis is fit into pre-decided narratives rather than the other way round. The need for views justifies ever more outrageous theses and virtue-signalling.
News today has become a drug. Drugs are useful in a controlled quantity. Beyond that they become an addition. Information is useful up to a certain point. Beyond that it becomes an uncontrolled phenomenon. News today has moved away from information. It’s either spewing out “data” which keeps people hooked, or presenting “knowledge” in a myopic, pre-packaged narrative, keeping people sedated.
As the loss of objectivity in media reporting became blatantly obvious, I started to read news with a grain of salt. Indeed, I even attempted to arrive at the middle-path, by reading both left and right leaning media and “averaging” out the truth. It was not viable or sustainable. Besides, left or right, both are media. They have the same business model — and compulsions.
The turning point for me was contradictory reporting. In New Zealand for example, unaffordable house prices are a key public issue. No political party is willing to do anything about it. Everyone will however virtue signal and provide benign suggestions which feign action but, in the end, never address the issue. On any given day, we find contradictory news on house prices. One day they are predicted to rise, the next day they are predicted to fall. Indeed, many times, rise and fall predictions are printed on the same page! The same happens for many other things as well. When the Covid-Omicron color-code was announced, it was published alongside two contradictory predictions. Three stories, all different, right next to each other, on the front page.
We don’t know what to believe. It’s become like diet fads which span the spectrum from no-carbs to no-limits. One day one is good for you, the next day another. I think most people have stopped paying attention to them.
From being informed, we are moving towards being dis-informed, mis-informed, and indeed even wrongly informed. Intra-polating the “straight road” from all these zig-zags is impossible. What more, there is a big chance that the information we consume might mislead us. If we act upon it, we might end up being worse off.
On average, it’s probably better to remain uninformed. This was my hypothesis.
What about FOMO?
Regardless of the state of news media today, news is a necessity. We cannot live as hermits. The Fear of Missing Out is real. As I undertook this experiment, the key question was: how to combat FOMO? The key lay in defining my circle of control.
Circle of Influence and Control
The basic premise is that there are things that we can control, things we can influence, and a nebulous exosphere of things that are of concern. As evident from the diagram, we’re best to focus on things we can control.
What can I control? What can I influence? What can’t I control or influence? Answering these questions clarifies reality and informs our actions in a practical manner.
Now consider inverting these questions: What can control my actions? What can influence my actions? What is just a concern? The answers provide clues on how to deal with FOMO.
- What can control or influence my actions? This is important information like weather, laws, mandates, taxes, local events, traffic etc. It constrains our choices and actions in tangible, and often immediate, ways.
- What is merely a concern (that I ought to be) filtering out? A military operation 16797 km away, a default by a tennis player, an election in another country. The have minimal bearing on our everyday lives. The media will surely jump on every item it can lay its hands on and present it as sensationally, emotionally and selectively as possible. Psychology and business models — remember? It’s up to us to not take the bait.
A circle of control helps discern the information we need to have. There is actually very little information that we need. More often than not, this information is, or can be, directly communicated to us via various means. For essential information, FOMO is manageable.
As information has proliferated, so has our consumption. Previously there were newspapers, which we checked once a day. With the internet, we were checking news several times a day. With mobile devices and apps, we’re checking news several times an hour. Not just us, everyone around us is also checking it several times an hour. Then there is also content proliferation. For example, hovering on the Windows weather widget to see the detailed weather, also provides an inescapable summary of the main news headlines. So, if an important event happens, it will come to our attention in some form or another, via a human or an app or device.
“Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.” — Epictetus, Greek Stoic philosopher
Three weeks into my experiment, I’m still at an early stage. The main benefit has been to “vaporize” more and more things from my circle of (unwarranted) concern and focus on my circle of control.
Let’s admit it. Taxes only ever go up. Democracy is flawed but is the best option apart from a progressive monarchy. There is a higher chance of being struck by lightning than winning the lottery. The grass is not always greener on the other side. Situations are usually not as extraordinary as they seem. Freedom of speech is extinct.
Things may not be ideal but until we are in a position to influence or control, we don’t need a news feed to inform, or agitate, us further on these issues.
Far from FOMO, we must embrace JOMO or the joys of missing out.
I stopped reading the news because I did not want to waste time consuming information of doubtful veracity, and about events I could not control.
By being intentional with my time, I have greater focus on things I can control. Paradoxically, by cutting out the constant intake of “current” affairs, I’m feeling more able to live in the present.
The Information Age was meant to empower us. To a large degree it has. The world has changed tremendously due to information technologies. Information is a necessity and we cannot afford to become a hermit. However, as the double-edged sword of the Information Age wields itself, we must make choices to preserve our well-being.
Knowledge may be power, but ignorance is bliss. The latter is proving to be a much-needed refuge in this age of information overload and pre-controlled narratives masquerading as news. From FOMO to JOMO, I think we’ve reached the stage of IOMO — the Importance of Missing Out. It may well be the key ingredient to help us redesign ourselves to combat the illusions, falsehoods and dangers of the Information Age.