The "News" is Digital Junk Food

Published: June 11th, 2022

Cutting out the news has been one of the best lifestyle decisions I've made in recent years. Cutting down my intake of junk information has significantly reduced the anxiety and worry in my day to day life. My view is that "the news" primarily exists is to keep consumers entertained rather than keeping citizens informed. We live in an age where we're constantly bombarded with messaging and information - most commonly in the form of advertisements, but also in the form of news that's designed to get us to spend more time than we intend to consuming.

A common argument against this view is that it's important to keep up with current events to be an informed citizen in a democracy. While there is some truth to this, my perspective is that consuming the 24 hour news cycle does anything but makes someone an "informed citizen" but rather distracts you from the real world and what's going on in your own life and your own neighborhood. After all, the news is presented with a click-bait headline that's designed to get us to emotionally react and click a link so that the website gets ad-revenue. The articles themselves are often sensationalized and created to reaffirm our exists beliefs and biases and to reach the maximum possible audience. The news, much like advertisers, are competing for our attention.

On a related note, I recently stumbled across this article about how a small number of companies control 90% of the media - not just "the news". That's 90% of what we read, watch, and listen to.

Modern news is similar if not identical to that of a of a business to consumer relationship. The information is presented in a manner to make the consumer think that it's essential information and, as a result, the consumer does what the corporation wants which is your attention. The goal here is to get you to keep consuming and to look for more information to consume which is why modern journalism favors quantity over quality. Almost all of it is useless and irrelevant information which floods our senses. As Yuval Noah Harari pointed out: people just don't know what to pay attention to, and they often spend their time investigating and debating side issues. In ancient times having power meant having access to data. Today having power means knowing what to ignore. The 24 hour news cycle is something to be ignored.

News headlines are 90% bad news that are designed to invoke negative feelings because the sad reality is that negative stories get the highest engagement rate because humans have are naturally hardwired to most likely react to the bad things that are happening in the world. Now imagine what that does to a person longterm psychologically by consuming these types of negative stories that are mostly anger inducing, sad, terrifying, or horrific? Undoubtedly, this person will suffer from anxiety and depression, and will likely have a negative view of the world and distrust their fellow human. Personally, I don't want to be this type of person.

Spending hours a day on social media & YouTube, news websites, and even good ol fashion TV consuming the news does not make one a more "informed" person. Information junkies often have the most extreme views (on both sides of the US political spectrum) with a strong "us vs them" mindset where "them" are scene to have a twisted sense of morality. In fact, I'd argue that the majority of people form their opinions simply be headlines, memes, and "hot takes" from iNfLuEnCeRs, and at best short-form lazy journalism.

There's also the opportunity cost. Wasting time on what the news deems important could be better spent reading long form articles or books. Reading a news article that invokes outrage is far more likely to be engaged with - and engagement/attention is the currency of the digital world. However, sharing your outrage of said article on social media makes it feel like you're doing something; that you're doing gods work by spreading the word and keeping others informed of what's really going on, when in reality you aren't doing anything at all. You may get some reactions from your followers, but they, like you, will also not do anything. It's a distraction from life and yourself. It also deters you from other things that developing a skill or spending time with real people in the physical world.

Now avoiding news may lead one to think I live under a rock, but if it's important enough, the "important" news stories will make it's way to my perception. If something horrific happens in my country, I do find out about it perhaps hours after the news breaks - maybe a few days for less dramatic stuff, but what difference does it make if I hear about the story hours after it happens? In fact, 99% of the "news" that makes it to my eyeballs because someone thought it was important that I see it is mostly garbage anyways. Maybe I'm viewed as being out of touch with the world, that if everyone mostly ignored the news the way I do, that governments and corporations will be getting away with murder and exploitation, but we've never been exposed to so much information as we are today and governments and corporations are still getting away with murder and exploitation.

My perspective is that the consumption of information is similar to that of food consumption. Consuming too much low quality food is not good for our physical health. Likewise, consuming too much news and low quality information is not good for our mental health. For example, dark patterns exist to trick us into spending more time on websites and applications than we initially intended to. The metaphor that 'you are what you eat' is true and you also are what you feed you mind. Spending a significant portion of your free time wasting time online watching YouTube videos or playing video games is not much different from a diet consisting a fast food. Once you recognize that you've been on a steady diet of information junk food, building a better information diet is more helpful than rather than starving yourself - rebuild your diet from the ground up. In my own personal life philosophy, I believe that if I want to improve myself, I should begin by critically looking at what I have in my life and removing something before I add something new - much like cutting out the heavily processed shit that we put in our body.

Looking back, all that time I spent reading news articles being fed to me by various social feeds were a complete waste of time. All they did were feed me stories about things I could not possibly change. Dropping out from the collective psychosis, was done wonders for my mental health and I've legitimately done much more interesting things with me time.

George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World are two of the more impactful books I've read in regards to understanding the present and future of human societies. Undoubtedly this quote would make more sense after reading them. Here's a quote from Neil Postman in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death about the differences between Orwell and Huxley that I think is relevant:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions."

Thanks for reading. Feel free to send comments, questions, or recommendations to hey@chuck.is.