The past year 2012, I posted on this blog a review of a work called The information diet. In it, the author (Clay Johnson), we proposed to reduce the consumption of information in order to alleviate the (according to him) harmful effects of consumption of the same.
A few days ago, thanks to the excellent blog Lapidarium notes I have been able to uncover a article, written in 201o by Rolf Dobelli called Avoid news: towards a healthy news diet . In it, Dobelli invites us to reduce our consumption of news to maintain a healthy diet of information.
According to Dobelli, the majority of us do not understand that the news is to the mind what sugar is to the body: an ingredient easy to digest, which never seem to be satisfied. The media provide us with small portions of matters which, in reality, are not of interest for our daily life and that do not require a thought developed. And it is for this reason that we do not experience saturation, unlike what happens when we read books or articles in depth.
But the consumption of news has harmful effects on our correct understanding of the world, and even to our health. And Dobelli shows us these effects way of 15 reasons why we should adopt a healthy diet of information.
Some of the arguments of Dobelli may be more successful than others, but they are interesting enough to pick them up in their entirety. So I’ll make a small summary of each of the reasons, and I will let the reader judge its worth for yourself.
1. The news lead us systematically to error
In a natural way, we tend to pay attention to what is flashy, scandalous, sensational, shocking, and stories that seem to be coherent and / or that involve other persons. By against, our attention is limited to information, more subtle, abstract, ambiguous and complex. And the media take advantage of these features of our minds.
The media focus on those issues that are more striking, and ignore other more subtle and complex, even though they are more important. In summary, the media know how to attract our attention. Its business model based on advertising encourages this trend. But, although the advertising did not play such an important role, we would still be predisposed to pay more attention to the stories easy to digest, and those are the ones that we would show the media.
This tendency to simplify the stories to make them attractive, can lead us to make us a wrong idea of the issues that they are dealing with, or lose sight of what are the really important issues:
We are not rational enough to be exposed to the news-mongering press. It is a very dangerous thing, because the probabilistic mapping we get from consuming news is entirely different from the current risks that we face. […]. If you think you can compensate for this bias with the strength of your own inner contemplation, you are wrong. Bankers and economists – who have powerful incentives to compensate for news-borne hazards – have shown that they cannot. The only solution: cut yourself off from news consumption entirely.
2. The news are irrelevant
It is likely that none of the huge amount of news that we consume us is led to make a better decision on an issue that can really affect our life, our career or business. And that is the consumption of news is irrelevant to the forces that really matter in our lives.
And is that “relevance” is subjective: it indicates what is important to us. But the concept of the relevance of the means is different: something relevant is something that sells, and the more the better. So even though the news is presented as “relevant” to our lives, what is certain is that are not based on the relevance (personal) for the audience, but in the shocking, spectacular or novel.
When the media have convinced us of what is relevant news for our lives, we can fall into the anxiety of missing something that could be key for us and, as well, losing the competitive advantage that supposed to be the day. But the reality is that the anxiety that causes us to not follow the news ends up becoming a competitive disadvantage. There are other ways which are less toxic to be informed:
You will learn far more about really important events and societal shifts by reading about them in specialized journals, in-depth magazines or good books and by talking to the people who know.
3. The news limited understanding
The news does not have explanatory power. Normally, they are usually indicative of deeper causes. And is that the news themselves are not the important thing: how to connect between them is fundamental, so we need to know what are the underlying processes that generate such news.
Unfortunately, few organizations focus on those hidden mechanisms, because they tend to be complex, and difficult to digest for the public. Instead, the news are easy to produce and digestion. So, we just believe that knowing a cascade of events is equivalent to understand the world, but there is no evidence to show that news consumers are better at making decisions:
Reading news to understand the world is worse than not reading anything. What’s best: cut yourself off from daily news consumption entirely. Read books and thoughtful journals instead of gulping down flashing headlines.
4. The news are toxic to our body
The news consistently raised reactions in our limbic system. Stories with a strong emotional content encourage the release of cascades of cortisol, which leads to states of chronic stress. In addition, high levels of cortisol can cause digestive problems, lack of growth, nervousness and susceptibility to infections:
News consumers risk impairing their physical health. The other potential side effects of news include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision and desensitization.
5. The news may increase the risk of errors in cognitive
The consumption of news exacerbates the well-known confirmation bias (the tendency to ignore information that contradicts our previous beliefs). The result may be a conservation of our theories about the world, even though they are wrong (with the practical implications that this entails).
In addition, the news can trigger other biases, such as the “bias of the stories” (story bias), which is the tendency to create or to believe in stories that seem to be coherent, that make sense to us, even when it does not correspond with the reality. The media constantly use stories of this type, either because their analysis is wrong, or to facilitate the consumption of their news, or simply to manipulate the public opinion.
Any journalist who writes, “The market moved because of X” or “the company went bankrupt because of Y” is an idiot. Of course, X might have had a casual influence, but it’s far from established, and other influences may be much more meaningful. To a large degree, news reports consist of nothing but stories and anecdotes that end up substituting for coherent analyses. I am fed up with this cheap way of “explaining” the world. It’s inappropriate. It’s irrational. It’s forgery. And I refuse to let it pollutant my thinking.
6. The news inhibits thinking
Thinking requires concentration, and concentration requires a time free of interruptions, that is precisely what cause the news.
Not only that: the consumption of news affects the memory. The interruptions, to reduce the concentration, cause a disruption in the circuit of the memory, preventing the information to move from short-term memory to long-term memory. And with it our understanding of the issues could be weakened: we become thinkers surface.
News consumers are suckers for irrelevancy, and online news consumers are the biggest suckers. News is an interruption system. It seizes your attention only to scramble it. Besides a lack of glucose in your blood stream, news distraction is the biggest barricade to clear thinking.
7. The news changed the structure of our brain
Our brain works in such a way that the activities that we practice more often reinforce the neural connections that enable such activities. And conversely: the less we practice a certain activity, unless reinforced will be the pathways responsible for it, to the point that they may be replaced by other pathways related to the activities that most practice.
The consumption of news reinforce the pathways associated with the shallow thinking and multitasking, at the expense of those related to deep thinking and concentration, and this can lead to a decrease in the ability to read in depth and, in consequence, to think with depth.
Deep reading is indistinguishable from deep thinking. When you consume news, your brain structurally changes. This means that the way you think changes. Regaining the capacity for concentration and contemplation will take nothing less than a radical news-free diet.
8. The news have a cost
The news affecting our productive in three ways: first, its consumption requires time (a time that we could devote to other things); in the second place, their consumption leads to a time of “refocalización”: after the disruption they cause, we need a time to re-focus on the task you were doing before the interruption; in the third place, the news distract us even hours after consumption: you may return to our mind even days after, interrupting our thoughts.
Information is no longer a scarce commodity. But attention is. Why give it away so easily? You are not that irresponsible with your money, your reputation or your health. Why give away your mind?
9. The news breaks the relationship between popularity and achievement
The media of mass communication have contributed to create the concept of “fame”. The result is that the people who are famous, usually are for reasons that have little relevance to our lives:
The media grants fame to movie stars and news anchors for scant reason. News sunders the relationship between reputation and achievement. The tragedy is that pop notoriety crowds out the achievements of those who make more substantive contributions
10. The news is produced by journalists
Not all journalists have the time or the capacity to develop in-depth analysis of the news. And what is true is that, a priori, it is difficult to differentiate between a professional, capable and independent, and the other superficial, simplistic, or hidden interests.
In addition, it is likely that few of the news I consume to be original or true works of research. Generally, tend to be copies of other news, or other sources, which increases the risk of errors and their irrelevance:
Many reporters cobble together the rest of the news from other people’s reports, common knowledge, shallow thinking and whatever the journalist can find on the internet. Some reporters copy from each other or refer to old pieces, without necessarily catching up with any interim corrections. The copying and the copying of the copies multiply the flaws in the stories and their irrelevance.
11. The news are sometimes wrong; the predictions, always
Even assuming the good faith of the media, the news are not always true: sometimes, budgets minimum editorial, or simple lack of time, making it difficult to check everything that is published.
More problematic is the case of the news that include predictions. And that is that people have a remarkable inability to anticipate the future in a changing world, complex, and in which the causes of phenomena are not always clear. And this inability is also shared by the various experts who populate the media, whether they are experts in finance, social issues, technology, or global conflicts.
Maybe, you’d find one or two correct predictions in a sea of millions of mistaken ones. Incorrect forecast are not only useless, they are harmful. To increase the accuracy of your predictions, cut out the news and roll the says or, if you are ready for depth, read books and knowledgeable journals to understand the invisible generators that affect our world.
12. The news manipulate us
The news tend to be selected by the media to meet their advertising contracts, or the interests of the owners of the media. In addition, there is a tendency to deliver news that are already popular for some reason, ignoring other more controversial or out of the circuits in the majority. All of these factors contribute to establishing what is called the “public agenda”, that is to say, those issues that can and should talk about:
Journalism shapes a common picture of the world and a common set of narratives for discussing it. It sets the public agenda. Hold on: do we really want news reporters to set the public agenda? I believe that agenda setting by the media is just bad democracy.
13. The news encourage passivity
The vast majority of news stories are about issues on which we cannot influence directly. And that feeling of impotence leads to a fatalistic view of the world, sarcastic, pessimistic, and we numb. Install us in passivity and victimhood: it is called learned helplessness.
It’s a bit of a stretch, but I would not be surprised if news consumption at least partially contributes to the widespread disease of depression. Viewed on a timeline, the spread of depression coincides almost perfectly with the growth and maturity of the mass media. Maybe it’s a coincidence, or maybe the constant onslaught of fire, famine, flood and failure adds to depression, even if these sad reports come from far away.
14. The news gives us the illusion that we care
The news provide us with a feeling of connection with the world: their consumption leads us to believe that we care about what happens to its inhabitants, even when that concern is not reflected in practice:
News wraps us in a warm overall feeling. We are all world citizens. We are all connected. The planet is just one global village. We sing “We Are the World” and wave the little flame of our lighters in perfect harmony with thousands of others. This gives us a glowing, fuzzy feeling that delivers the illusion of caring but doesn’t get us anywhere. This allure of anything bespeaking global brotherhood smells like a gigantic chimera. The fact is, consuming news does not make us more connected to each other. We are connected because we interact and trade.
15. The news kills creativity
That which we already know does not contribute to fostering creativity. On the contrary, the creative minds looking for those places little frequented, that allow the birth of new ideas. And len as news often is more to the common spaces, what has already been said, what’s popular.
It is possible that another consequence of the news is detrimental to creativity: the distraction that they cause:
The creativity-killing effect of the news might also be due to something simpler we’ve discussed before: distraction. I just can’t imagine producing novel ideas with the distraction that news always delivers. If you want to come up with old solutions, read news. If you are looking for new solutions, don’t read news.