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I Stopped Reading the News and This is What Happened

Photo by Kingston Chen on Unsplash

In the months leading up to the 2016 election and the year that followed I was, much like everyone else, addicted to the news. My trusted newspapers were not quick enough to pick up stories I needed to know about, so I followed every reporter I could on Twitter. I even started following pundits that I despised because I was desperate to get the “whole story.”

If there was a particularly juicy tweet with a ton of engagement I would read through the comments, the fights, the stupid memes. If someone got me particularly enraged I would check out their profile, their follower account, their profile picture. On one occasion I got into a “debate” — something I vowed never to do — with what could very well have been a robot.

When I read a story that supported my views I received a sense of righteousness, a smugness. If I saw a story that conflicted with what I believed in I would become angry. I would continue to research the story until I found a thread of inaccuracy (which usually wasn’t very hard) to return me to my sense of righteousness. I am smart. Anyone who disagrees with me is dumb and heartless and probably really sad inside. At least that is what I thought.

Sometime last summer I decided that I wanted to read more books. I was reading a ton of news, but I wasn’t really learning anything. It wasn’t make a better person and it sure as hell wasn’t making me happy. In order to read more books I knew I had to make more time. That meant cutting out the countless hours I spent scrolling through my Twitter feed.

I needed a change.

I quit cold turkey. I unfollowed nearly everyone and Twitter and deleted the app from my phone. I unsubscribed to daily newsletters. I deleted the Flipboard app and the News app. I was flying blind.

It has now been about eight months since I started this media fast. Here is what I noticed.

I have more time.

This was my initial goal. I didn’t even realize how much time I was spending following the news cycle. Every day there was some “breaking” story that I had to read more and more about. Unfolllowing every news outlet and political reporter on Twitter and unsubscribing from daily and “breaking news” email updates has freed up hours of my day. I now spend that time pursuing passion projects (like writing and web design) and reading more actual books.

I am happier.

The more books I read, the more I realize I should cut things out of my life that aren’t beneficial to me — that I should eliminate things that don’t make me happy or a better person. The news wasn’t making me happy, it was making me angry. It also was not making me a better person, even though I thought it was. I thought I was becoming a more informed citizen, that I was doing what every American should be doing. But I was actually become more judgmental. I was only enforcing my beliefs when I should be questioning them. I was becoming more polarized.

Overall, creating more free time and cutting out negativity (aka news) has made me a much more happy person. It’s like a fog has been lifted and I am actually seeing what matters to me.

I am still able to stay informed.

Do you know those daily news breakthroughs? They aren’t really breakthroughs. If they were, they wouldn’t happen every day. The 24-hour news cycle has become an entertainment industry, not an information industry. The goal of these news outlets is to attract readers, sell ads, make money. Sure, many of the journalists have great intentions, but everyone wants to break a story or come up with a particularly “hot take.”

But I do believe every responsible voter should remain informed. Informed doesn’t mean you have to know what is happening at the White House at every waking moment. To me it means knowing what stories impact me and what stories are actionable in a meaningful way.

How do I know what’s going on?

I stay attuned to stories and topics I care about by asking people that I know are knowledgeable and that I trust. This means sending an email or a text to certain friends every couple of weeks just asking “What are your thoughts on what’s happening in Washington?” or something similar. Tim Ferriss mentioned he does something similar and it’s honestly an amazing technique. It allows me to rely on trusted sources to filter out junk for me? Is it creating a burden on my friends? No, I know this because I asked them. Most people I asked said they were happy to share their opinion and were happy that I trusted them enough to ask.

Sure, I have no idea what is happening in pop culture, nor do I know what the president tweeted about this morning — and that’s ok.

I’ve heard and read the arguments that ignorance and disengagement are forms of privilege. And to a certain extent I agree. But avoiding online debates and toxic comment sections is not disengagement. I still intend to exercise my rights as I voter. The mid-term elections are taking place this year and I have every intention of thoroughly researching every candidate and issue on the ballot. I can create informed opinions without a constant connection to the news.

Ignoring today’s “breaking news” is not ignorance. I can still engage in a healthy debate (with an actual human being) because I know my beliefs — I don’t need to regurgitate the day’s talking points. If someone wants to talk about the latest happenings in the such-and-such investigation I can simply say that I am not informed enough on the topic. Admitting you don’t know something takes way more courage and intelligence than assuming you know everything. Consuming endless news stories does not make you intelligent, it just makes you think you are.

I don’t miss it.

Not one bit. Everyone once in a while I will somehow see a juicy headline (I work in marketing so it is hard to avoid the top news stories on social media) and not even think twice about clicking on it. It honestly makes me a anxious to think about how much weight people place on some of these topics.

Take a step back. Take a break. Reevaluate what is important. What you find might surprise you.

Am I a libtard cuck? Am I a right-wing Cheeto worshipper? Let me know in the comments!