[Listen to an audio version of this blog HERE.]
Shortly after the presidential election, I stopped watching the news. It was all so insincere and contradictory and exhausting. Not watching the news, though, is not a popular thing to do. There has been much discussion around the inherent privilege of ignoring the news and disconnecting from media. One author, in a piece entitled, "The White Privilege of Ignoring the News" went so far as to write, "If there is evidence of privilege, that’s it: to feel so insulated from adversity, so inoculated from suffering, so immune from struggle, so unaffected by reality — that you could simply turn off the news, because the act feels inconsequential to your existence. It reveals that not only do you feel the events of the day have no tangible or lasting effect on you, but you’re blissfully ignorant to the way those events are painful, invasive, and even deadly to less fortunate people who lack the luxury of being oblivious.." His premise seems inherently flawed in that he assumes only white people ignore the news, but I digress.
Here's my bone to pick with this aggressively inaccurate accusation: sometimes, people need a break from the news cycle because the news cycle seems set on inciting anger and stoking fear rather than providing news. Not to mention the obvious partisanship of many news organizations. When the talking heads are clearly pandering either to the far left or far right, it's hard to believe them. It's hard to take them seriously. It's simply, hard to care when the truth is so muddied and bastardized.
I chose to disconnect because my personal life was enough to think about. Health concerns, financial concerns, mental health issues, work obligations, and family obligations can pile up around a person so high that we can't see a way out. We just need to breathe. Focus on taking care of ourselves. Sometimes that necessitates disconnecting from a world that is ruthless in it's trauma and dogmatic in it's tendencies. The news and media cycle can bury you, if you let it.
The news and media cycle also doesn't care about you. You are the only one who can decide if it's the right time to take a step back or to reengage with the worlds' larger problems. You can't help anyone if you don't take care of yourself. Besides, if you cared deeply about every issue you saw or heard about on the news, you'd be drowning in a sea of misery and ennui and hopelessness. There's a lot of bad shit going on in the world and what could be more dis-empowering than letting the media tell you what to care about? How vapid and insincere.
Much has been written about the phenomenon of emotional numbing. We feel numb when we feel too much. When we become too exhausted. When all the bad shit becomes too overwhelming to quite understand or do anything about. Mother Teresa said, "If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will." These are the words of a woman whose acts of charity and kindness earned her sainthood. While most of us can see a single death, for instance, as a tragedy, we often struggle to have the same response to large-scale death. Too often, the deaths of many simply become a statistic. The news can have the same effect. In all the endless talk about COVID deaths and rates of infections, we certainly disconnect, especially if we don't know anyone who has been personally affected. When we see enough horrible shit we stop being shocked by it. A break from the constant onslaught of bad news can help us reconnect with our humanity again. It can help us be better people.
My experience taking a break from the ceaseless news cycle has been profoundly satisfying. My mental state has improved, I have more time to focus on my work and interests. I'm more engaged with the world around me and have found time to do deep dives into topics that interest me or that I care about. Instead of getting snippets and sound bites, I'm reading long form content, like this New Yorker article about fighting COVID in the Amazon with herbs and the internet (you'll need to subscribe to read). And, instead of getting mad or disheartened by the state of the world as portrayed on the news, I get to determine the state of the world by living in it. By interacting with people who think differently or by witnessing live protesters or by engaging in small acts of kindness.
An erroneous assumption that comes with a news cleanse is that we stop caring about issues that matter. Some people don't care to begin with, and some people care despite not engaging, while others care while engaging with the news. Life is more nuanced than most of us realize. I'd like to believe we're all doing the best we can, whether or not we're tuned into the nightly news.
P.S. Listen to The Daily, the New York Times' short new podcast here, listen to Up First, the NPR version of a daily news podcast here, get a deal on the New Yorker here, or subscribe to the Atlantic here. Finally, if you're a news skeptic, find the least biased news sources here.