Are you a CNN viewer or a Fox News fan? Or do you prefer another news source like Huffington Post or the Drudge Report or the Daily Kos? My answer: none of the above. A couple of years ago I made the decision to stop watching TV news and stop reading online news sources, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Now you’re probably asking: Michael, why in the world would you do such a thing?
Or: just what kind of “head in the sand” ostrich are you?
I assure you, my decision had nothing to do with a desire to put coton in my ears and shout “la la la la.” It was about two things: sensitivity and productivity.
Try this exercise: look at the list of top headlines from either a major national news source or a local one and categorize them. Just now, I did this with a national news source and here are the results: politics, politics, politics, celebrity sex scandal, politics, politics, mass shooting, politics, politics, politics. Here are the results of the same exercise with a local news source: shooting, car crash death, fire, car crash death, attempted murder, charity event.
I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP). My brain processes information in a way that makes me easily overwhelmed by external stimuli. You might be annoyed by a noisy restaurant. The same restaurant will likely drive an HSP like me to a headache, an outburst of anger, or a shutdown. But more relevant to my lack of news watching is that being an HSP also makes me very emotionally reactive. Ask my wife about how I can tear up at a compliment. And please don’t even mention that old Hallmark TV commercial about the woman who mails her lonely, elderly neighbor a card. (Hang on, I have something in my eye…)
When I read news stories about murder and kidnapping and rape and torture, those stories have a profound adverse effect on me. And they should, HSP or not. But a couple of years ago, I noticed that they didn’t anymore. “Another school shooting? Twenty elementary school aged kids dead? That’s awful. Say, how about those Cubs?”
I’d become desensitized to the worst deeds of humanity. It all had become routine to me. I asked myself: Self, if I avoid the news for some length of time, can I resensitize myself to the plight of humanity?
Turns out I could, and avoiding the news for “some length of time” became “basically forever.” Today, I can’t read terrible news stories. I can’t read about a murder and keep a detached, emotionless perspective. When I read such stories, I can only imagine the plight of the victim and the feelings of his or her loved ones. And it is overwhelming.
However, there are things in this world that are both unpleasant and important to know about. I want to know if a serial killer has targeted my neighborhood, for example. By not reading the news, don’t I shelter myself from these important things?
No, because the world will make sure you don’t miss the important stuff.
Watching programmer and teacher Scott Hanselman’s one-hour productivity tips video, It’s Not What You Read, It’s What You Ignore, was life changing. His thesis is that to increase the amount of time you have available to work on and do the things you really want to do, you should flat-out ignore the things that don’t matter, like that stack of magazines you know you’ll never read, or the 100 CC emails in your inbox. And he insists that if you do this, you will you will not miss the important stuff. Why? Because if work is on fire, your boss is not going to tell you via an email you’re CC’ed on. She’s going to call on the phone! So why are you checking your email every five minutes on nights and weekends?
This principle also applies to the news. I’m paraphrasing from memory, but in the video, Hanselman says that he gets his news from the Subway sandwich artist who makes his lunch. “Whitney Houston died?” Hanselman says. “That sucks! Can I get a Diet Coke with that?”
Hanselman is right. I haven’t watched a cable news channel, a local news broadcast, or read any online news source for several years, yet I am aware of who won the recent Presidential election. I know that the UK voted to leave the EU. I know we lost Alan Rickman, Muhammad Ali, Prince, and too many others this year. But I didn’t learn any of this from YourFavoriteNewsSite.com.
Avoiding the news increases my productivity. I have more time to spend on things I enjoy and things that don’t bring me down, like reading or watching stories, or writing my own, or keeping up with what’s going on at Disneyland. And I don’t at all feel like Luke Skywalker standing all by his lonesome on Anch-To waiting for Rey to arrive.
I feel more meaningfully connected to people than ever before.