One of the things I used to enjoy doing was keeping up with the news. I thought it was important to always up to date with the latest events across the globe.
It certainly serves a purpose. Being informed about political events occurring around the globe is one way to avoid sliding into apathy and into the hands of unscrupulous propaganda.
However, is there a point where too much news is a bad thing?
Recently, I have begun to think so. As an Englishman, I have become obsessed with the Brexit saga. For three years, it has rumbled on, without any sight in conclusion. There was a period when I was glued to the screen to see what may or may not happen next.
Apart from keeping me informed, keeping up with the news on a daily basis only made me more angry and agitated about the whole situation. The same thing happened with other news stories.
I noticed I would find myself irate at various stories, ranging from politics to more mundane matters. Was it really beneficial to sit in front of the TV for 30 minutes every day and get whipped up into a frenzy?
No, is the simple answer.
It may be important to have an idea of what is going on in the world, but that’s not the only thing the news is facilitating.
If you open any news website, chances are you will be confronted by a number of new stories that are negative on the whole. From shootings in Sri Lanka to politicians fucking things up, there is a serious dearth of positive news stories on the web.
Almost all of the stories I come across are negative in their tone and story. Apart from being negative, all of these stories have one thing in common. They exist to make outraged.
This is what happened to me. I would be scrolling through a website just after I woke up and before I headed off to work. I would come across a story which piqued my interest and after a few minutes, I would be angry.
So, just as my day had begun, I was already in a bad mood before I had even done anything. I was starting my day off on the wrong foot, angry at some story which may or may not have an effect on my life.
This is simply no way to live your life. It serves no purpose to be constantly wound up about events that are out of your control. It’s detrimental to living an enjoyable and full lifestyle.
Not only does reading the news antagonise us and exploit our emotions, but it is also a huge waste of time. This is time that could be better spent learning a new skill or reading a book, instead of reading news stories in far-flung countries.
It was the Greek philosopher, Epictetus that said:
“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid with regard to external things.”
It may seem counter-intuitive not to be up to date with every little detail that happens around the world, but when was the last time one of these events really hit home? When was the last time one of them really affected you?
All of those notifications you receive from your phone, iWatch or laptop are there to distract you, negatively affect your emotions and divert your attention from what truly matters.
Your own life.
The news, by definition, is not built to last. The clue is in the name! The half-life of a news story is remarkably small compared to that of a philosophy book such as Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. When it comes down to which one is a better use of your time, there is no contest.
We are more interconnected than ever before as a species. This has allowed us to achieve so much, but it has come at a cost.
Where news stories used to take weeks and sometimes, months to travel around the globe. Now, we receive an alert on our phones almost as instantly as the event has happened. We are more informed and interconnected than ever before, but it is beneficial.
I would argue that it’s not.
Throughout human history, we operated mainly in small tribes. News of the wider world was scarce. Somebody living in France 500 years ago, would have had little idea about was going on across the channel in England.
Where their lives any worse of because of this? I doubt it. The old saying goes that ignorance is bliss, and it probably was. Events in England didn’t affect the average person in France, so why would they need to know about what was going on there?
The same principle applies today, but because we have access to so much information about what is going on around the world at our fingerprints, we are more exposed than ever. Do I really need to know about politics in Australia when I live in England?
The answer is so obvious, the question doesn’t need an answer!
News companies are fighting for our attention and time. They have infinite space on the web they can fill with stories of various kinds. It’s a competition and the prize is you and your attention.
If you were to take a trip to outer space and observe the Earth from above, all the petty squabbling that takes place on our planet would be put into perspective.
Up there, you would be away from it all. You would only see the outlines of the continent and the gigantic oceans that make up our planet. You would have no idea about the various dramas that were playing out down below.
Eventually, you would come to the realisation that none of it truly matters. We are on a rock floating through space, all of the anger and emotion that we feel from news stories is a waste of time.
Armies fighting over land would look ants squabbling over a molehill. The noise we hear from politicians on a daily basis would slowly fade into silence.
That’s all the news is, noise. It’s up to you whether you want to keep tuning in, or tune out and spend some in bliss instead.