In W.H. Auden’s poem Night Mail, he describes a Scottish town’s longing and eagerness for tomorrow’s “gossip, news and declarations”.
Within it, a mention of how “men long for news” made me deeply consider why that is so. Upon reflection, there are a handful of biological drivers at play:
News feeds into our desire to be connected via the stories of human beings, e.g. “Inside the Life of A Local Hero“
Our need for security – “Gangland Killing in Capital City“
Our longing for pleasure/inspiration – “Breakthrough on Mission to Mars“
On top of the biological attraction, we have been socially influenced to think that those who read news are intelligent beings, leading to a perception that news makes us better, or if anything, makes us look smarter.
This is also muddled with the thought that taking in a lot of information per se, in a short space of time, is being “productive”.
Both are flawed perceptions.
News kills value creation and is an impediment to becoming a better version of yourself.
If you’re an expert on news, you either have poor self-control, a poor association of its worth or no viable purpose to work on in its absence.
The Argument that You Will Find Something
Some people will defend news by saying – “it is a good way to stay up to date with what’s going on, and you may stumble upon useful information”.
(i) Do you remember what was in the news last week? If you do, how relevant is that information to your goals?
(ii) Yes, we do find nuggets of actionable information from time to time. Yet this is extremely rare and is probably next to a 0.1%-0.5% return on your time invested. Other sources will give you 100x that.
(iii) Anything which is actually new and important enough will get to you. If it does seem important, then explore it.
You Are What You Eat Read
James Altucher, a very out-spoken commentator, and former journalist, said it best:
“News is the biggest form of junk food. Its commentary on events that are almost certainly not important, and which won’t influence any decisions you make in life. It is hastily put together, often on stories which scare people the most”
If you analyse the majority of news, it follows the format: X happened here. Y happened there. Z said this. A said this.
Here’s the real bummer: since our amygdala is always looking for things to fear, bad news sells more, which is why the majority of what we hear is predominantly negative and downbeat.
Given its readily abundance (e.g. every medium and every hour of the day), we get over-saturated, and it’s negativity rubs off on us.
“We are a product of the thinking around us” – David J Schwartz
From disproportionately focusing on problems and tragedies, viewers cultivate higher levels of cautiousness and negativity when we should be seeking positivity and opportunity.
Similarly, from being constantly at the end of what’s happening, we develop a sense of helplessness and at best, re-activeness to the world’s events. In fact, we hardly ever react. News is so plentiful that it’s near impossible to respond to any one thing – our mind shuts off.
Most of news isn’t “new”. As Malcolm Muggeridge, a former British journalist puts it:
“All news is old news happening to new people”
It is repetition. The same headlines you heard yesterday, this morning, or 6 months ago will be the ones you hear today. News is a merry-go-round.
Once you have a general grasp of how the world works (which is important), you realise that history repeats itself, and throws up the same old stories; disputed elections, politicians and false promises, foreign wars, celebrity scandals, the list goes on…
The Opportunity Cost
Apart from the content itself having a negative effect on you, it’s the opportunity cost that’s the biggest victim, i.e. losing what could’ve been time better spent.
Checking news as a reflex action takes us away from the things we ought to be doing, and the things we ought to be thinking about.
Letting it “plug” time in your day is something you must not let happen.
Competition is so fierce (in any field), that if you want to rise to the top, you need to be growing every minute of the day – don’t fall into the trap of what those around you are doing.
To continue with news is a form of laziness, yet remember that it will only move us sidewards, and not forward.
To move forward we must devote our time to more worthy projects and sources of learning.
As regularly emphasised by Tony Robbins: progress = happiness.
If you have any deep desire to create something of yourself (which we all should), or for a basic measure, be happier, then you need to resist your biological attraction and perceived value with news – ignore it.
Just because it’s everywhere doesn’t mean it’s useful.
The world needs less passive commentators, and more pro-active problem-solvers. So, starting from today, stop reading about what has happened in the world, and instead focus on what you can makehappen.