Following the news is so deeply ingrained an activity into the day to day lives of modern human beings that most of us never question its value.
If you believe that watching the news keeps you updated with what’s happening in the world, educates you, introduces new ideas and developments into your life, notifies you of the dangers of life which could otherwise go unnoticed and harm you, provides you with topics to talk about with other people, makes you a better citizen, and improve the overall quality of your life; I’ve got bad news for you (no pun intended).
Not only you’ve been conned you into believing that you are receiving the above benefits when you are not, by following the news, you are also actively setting yourself up for failure in life.
Following the News Makes You a Coward
It’s no accident that the news is almost always bad news. Fear is our strongest emotion, the purpose of which is to keep us alive. When we used to live in tribes, an unnoticed danger in our environment could easily cost us our lives so we are evolved to make it a priority to pay attention to the potential dangers that could be lurking around.
News outlets exploit this natural inclination by constantly bombarding us with new dangers to be afraid of. More fear = more attention, clicks, ratings, circulation, subscriptions = more profits. This formula has been working like a charm since the nineteenth century. Here’s what Robert Greene wrote about it in his book 50th Law:
In the evolution of fear, a decisive moment occurred in the nineteenth century when people in advertising and journalism discovered that if they framed their stories and appeals with fear, they could capture our attention. It is an emotion we find hard to resist or control, and so they constantly shifted our focus to new possible sources of anxiety: the latest health scare, the new crime wave, a social faux pas we might be committing, and endless hazards in the environment of which we were not aware. With the increasing sophistication of the media and the visceral quality of the imagery, they have been able to give us the feeling that we are fragile creatures in an environment full of danger—even though we live in a world infinitely safer and more predictable than anything our ancestors knew. With their help, our anxieties have only increased.
Almost none of the dangers that the news outlets inform you about are direct threats to your well-being. Most of what’s framed as potential dangers don’t even qualify as legitimate dangers as the news outlets deliberately make an elephant out of a fly in order to fire up your fear response and attract your attention.
The unfounded belief that you are constantly surrounded by potentially dangerous situations makes you jaded, cynical, fearful, anxious and depressed. Information is supposed to strengthen your hand against the challenges of life but since the news is more about disinformation than it’s about information, it accomplishes the opposite. Following the news causes you to develop a fearful attitude towards life’s challenges. Fear tells you to retreat when you need to fearlessly face and overcome the challenges on your way to success.
Following the News Makes You Dumb
People are made to believe that following the news keeps them informed but is this really the case?
What’s found in the news barely qualifies as information as what is supposed to be information is usually superficial, or warped, or sensationalized, or watered down, or propaganda, or downright lies, or all of these things at the same time.
Besides chasing profits, news outlets also have agendas. They spin the news to fit into the propaganda they are trying to push which they dress up as unbiased information. This allows them to mold the minds of their unsuspecting viewers into behaving the way they want them to do.
Thinking for yourself and forming your own opinions is tough because obtaining and processing unbiased information is a laborious task which requires scrutiny, so most people outsource this process to the pundits of their favorite news outlets. This is a grave mistake. Not only it’s foolish to believe that these pundits have your best interests in their hearts, by letting them do the thinking for you, you also face the danger of losing your intellectual independence.
Intellectual independence is the most important form of independence because your mind is your most powerful weapon for survival. He who controls your mind controls your life. Losing your intellectual independence is the equivalent of selling your soul and willingly handing your most potent weapon to the people who rarely have your best interests in their hearts.
Blindly following the thought leaders to shape your mind is tantamount to leaving the direction of your life to blind chance. It’s no surprise that the lives of the majority of the people suck. When you let others do the thinking for you, you can’t expect to win in life.
Last but not least, following a particular news outlet almost always renders you a victim to groupthink. News outlets are instrumental in breeding useful idiots. Besides being detrimental to your intellectual independence, groupthink always leads to irrational decisions because when individuals might sometimes be right, groups of people are always wrong.
Following the News Wastes Your Most Important Resources to Move Forward in Life: Time and Focus
Every second you spend consuming the news is a second you could use to be productive. Life is shorter than you think and your time and attention are too valuable to waste on useless pursuits that make you intellectually dependent, anxious, fearful, depressed, dumb, and unproductive.
Unless you are planning to live like a leech, the quality of your life depends on the value you produce. In order to lead a prosperous life, you must produce value that other people are willing to exchange value for. To make money you must create value that other people are willing to pay for. To receive love and respect you must build yourself up as a man worthy of love and respect.
Creating value takes time and focus, both of which should not be squandered with distractions.
Following the news shortens your attention span and sabotages your ability to focus. The information you get from the news is shallow at best and malevolent at worst. Following the news not only does nothing for you to get closer to achieving your goals in life, but it also drives you further away from them by distracting you, shortening your attention span, cluttering your mind, and wasting your time.
Here’s what Nobel Prize winner economist Herbert Simon had to say about the overabundance of information:
What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.
Your mind is your most potent tool to create value. You must be selective about the information that gets into your mind and you must be frugal with your attention. The news deserves neither your focus nor your attention.
-But Lane, isn’t it necessary to be concerned with terrorism, wars, natural disasters, financial crises, policies, epidemic illnesses, the environmental issues and other maladies of the world?
Nope. All of these things happen anyway regardless of whether you are concerned with them or not. They are all out of your control so it’s in your best interests to just ignore them and focus on the things that you have control over. Life is already hard. Don’t make it harder by worrying about the problems of the people you don’t personally know or the problems that you have no control over.
It might sound cruel to stop caring about the problems of the world and the misfortunes of some of its people but more disasters happen in the world than you are capable of caring about. If you wanted to be concerned about all the misfortunes of humanity, you would need to mourn consistently for 7 days, 24 hours and 365 days and even that would pale in comparison to all of the maladies of the world. Unless some disaster is directly related to you or the people you personally know and unless it’s within your power to do something about it, it’s best to ignore it and move on with your life.
Note also the ever-changing nature of news cycles. A seemingly earth-shattering piece of news is stale news just within a few days and it’s completely forgotten within a few weeks at most and replaced by the newer and shinier outrage or disaster of the moment, whether it’s manufactured or real.
On the other hand, real life doesn’t work like that. Your problems won’t disappear when you stop paying attention to them. Finding solutions to your problems takes your time, attention and focus. Life is filled with problems. It’s irrational to ignore your own problems in favor of worrying about the problems of the people that you don’t personally know or the problems that are out of your control. You can only focus on one problem at a time and it takes time and mental power to solve your problems. Your time and focus are precious and they are not to be squandered with useless flashy news of the moment which will be forgotten in just a few days.
Following the News Is Addictive
Addictions ruin your life and drug addiction isn’t the only type of addiction that you should brace yourself against. Corporations are aware that repeat customers are the customers who bring in the largest share of profits and they do everything to make their products addictive. News programs, bulletins, and newspapers are all commercial products and they too rely on repeat customers to turn profits.
The human mind isn’t perfect. One look at the exhaustive list of cognitive biases makes it clear that we have an abundance of holes in our ability to perceive and process reality. Corporations tirelessly study all of these biases and try to find ways to make their products addictive to unsuspecting customers. Addiction to junk food, television, social media, etc. aren’t accidents. These products are studied and designed to be addictive.
One of the biases that the media outlets utilize to make their products addictive is the Zeigarnik effect. The human mind doesn’t like uncompleted tasks so we are compelled to follow incomplete news cycles until they are completed. Following the news about elections is a good example of falling prey into the Zeigarnik effect. Once you get sucked into the story, you will not stop consuming the election news until the election is carried out. Even after the election results are announced, you will be compelled to follow how things will unfold and what the elected president will do in the office. You will waste thousands of hours of your life for an election, the results of which you have minuscule control over.
Providing novelty is another way that the news outlets exploit your biological vulnerability for addiction. Your brain is wired to seek novelty. Novelty causes your brain to release dopamine which also happens to be the mechanism of how drugs create addiction.
By constantly replacing stale news with fresh content, they are triggering your brain’s addiction mechanism and make you crave the next issue or the next bulletin. As with drugs, fresh news never completely satisfies the brain so the cycle goes on as long as you keep living.
What to Do About It?
It’s impossible to completely avoid following the news and there’s also a small chance that a news story can be directly related to you or the people that you directly know. Find a news aggregator and skim the headlines for 3-5 minutes in the morning. Unless a headline is definitely and absolutely related to your life, which is almost none of them, then don’t click on it. Move on with your life.
-But Lane, it’s our civic duty follow the news on politics. How will we vote correctly if we don’t follow the news?
Do what Tim Ferriss does and ask the people you trust who you know to be following the political news.
-What if I miss an important piece of information?
Unless you live under a rock you will learn about it anyway either via the word of mouth or by reading the headlines.
-Won’t it make me ignorant to stop following the news?
Following the news informs you as much as eating junk food nourishes you.
Find real sources of information such as books. There’s nothing more annoying than the person who watches the news for a few hours and talks as if he’s an expert about something he heard just 3 hours ago. Don’t be one of those people. Consume high-quality information which stood the test of time and you will never be ignorant.
Stop following the news and focus on producing value if you want to live a life filled with accomplishments, wealth, and pride. You’ll start to see changes from day one. And yes, you should quit social media too.