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Stop reading the news!

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

Swiss author and entrepreneur, Rolf Dobelli's most recent book, Stop Reading the News, is his manifesto for a happier, calmer and wiser life. In this book, he details how he has quit reading the news almost 10 years ago, with no ill-effects, and many benefits noted. (It's a fantastic book - I highly recommend it!).

Here are some of the key points from the book to help you decide whether it might be helpful to quit consuming the news:

  1. The new is sold as relevant - Dobelli notes that news is a relatively recent invention - about 350 years old. More recently the news has become big business - anything that might pique readers' interests and boost sales are considered newsworthy - regardless of what is actually important. The new is being sold as relevant. Relevance is anything that grabs your attention. Our brains are desperate for stories that makes sense as quickly as possible. But, consider the news items you've devoured over the last 12 months - at a conservative average of 60 per day - 20,000 per year. Can you think of a single one that helped you make a better decision about your life, your family, your career, your well-being, or your business? The news they supply us is irrelevant, but its sold as relevant. News organisations want you to believe they are giving you a competitive advantage. The media - which is often sold as 'analysis' when in fact it is anecdotes - is feeding us titbits that might taste palatable, but do nothing to satisfy our hunger or knowledge.

  2. News information is superficial - information given on the day something happens is by its nature basic and inadequate. In the internet age these stories are produced in pursuit of clicks and likes. Maintaining high standards are impossible when journalists face pressure to produce a high number or 'articles'. What we want is context and consideration - which is what you get from books, investigative journalism or long-form articles in (reputable) magazines. News is the opposite of understanding the world. It suggests there are only events - events without context. Yet the opposite is true: nearly everything that happens in the world is complex. Facts get in the way of thoughts - if you consume the daily news you will be under the illusion that you understand the world which can lead to overconfidence.

  3. News gets risk assessment all wrong - our nervous system responds strongly to scandalous, shocking, polarising, rapidly changing stimuli, and disproportionately weakly to abstract, ambivalent, complex interrelated pieces that require a degree of interpretation. The news doesn't report on context or larger systems, and so a lot of important factors are not considered/mentioned. Negative information has twice the impact that positive information does (in psychology this is called the negativity bias). Consuming the news leads to chronic stress. News is obsessed with the immediate soundbite. Reading the news daily skews our sense of what is important. The risks you read about in the news aren't the ones you need to worry about.

  4. Consuming the news daily takes a considerable amount of time. What do you have to show for all this lost time? Do you understand the world better? Have you expanded your circle of competence by absorbing a variety of tidbits? Do you make better decisions? Has your concentration improved? Do you have more peace of mind? We are living in a world where there is information available at the touch of a button or voice command. Time and attention on the other hand are in short supply. So why are you so irresponsible with it?

  5. News rewires our brains - when we go online we enter an environment which promotes cursory reading and superficial learning. The news is specifically constructed so that you cannot form your own thoughts - it kills our creativity by interfering with our concentration. It is turning us into shallower thinkers and literally changing the structures of our brains. Research has found that people who consume different media at the same time had fewer brain cells in their anterior cingulate cortex - the part of the brain responsible for attention, moral deliberation and impulse control - which means that your attention span shrinks and you could have trouble controlling your emotions.

  6. The news is manipulative and often has an ulterior motive. There is almost always some advertising in tow trying to flog you products you don't need. Fake news is on the rise and more and more its targeted at individual consumers. Even established news organisations are increasingly featuring 'advertorials' and 'native advertising' - paid-for puff pieced camouflaged as editorials. It is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between truthful, unbiased news items and those with an ulterior motive.

  7. News gives us the illusion of empathy - it lulls us into a warm, all-inclusive sense of common humanity - we are all citizens of the world subject to the same troubles. This is a gigantic act of self-deceit. Yes, but shouldn't we take interest in the plight of impoverished people, or in wars or atrocities? Wallowing in your own empathy by watching earthquake victims crawling out of rubble on TV isn't simply not helpful, it's actually repulsive. Genuine concern entails action. Your attention helps the news media, not the victims (and you are harming yourself!). If you want to help, donate money from where you are. Your humanity is not measured by how much misery you consume on the news. There is enough suffering in the world even without the news. Make regular donations to established aid organisations - they - not the media - have the best sense of where help is most needed.

  8. News destroys your peace of mind. It creates a frantic sense of chaos and constant negative emotions. Peace of mind arises in part through absence of toxic emotions. There are things you can control and things you cannot control - and there is no sense in troubling yourself with things you cannot control - 99.9% of all world events are outside your control. It is best to focus your energies on things you can control. Epictetus offered another important argument two thousand years ago: "You become what you give your attention to... If you yourself don't choose what thoughts and images you expose yourself to, someone else will". Dobelli urges you to keep an airtight seal between yourself and this incubator of negativity.

Dobelli recommends a 30-day plan to quit the news. He notes the first week of radical abstinence will be the worst. Not checking the news takes discipline. You'll feel itchy, nervous, unprepared for the next catastrophe. You will worry that you're at a disadvantage compared to everyone else. Resist. Stick to your plan. After 30 days you'll reach an important turning point: you will realise that despite abstaining from the news you've not missed any relevant information. If something truly significant happens, you will soon enough find out - from your friends, family or someone you're chatting to. If the 30-day plan seem too radical, he recommends a 'soft option': avoid the daily papers (print and online) completely, as well as the radio, TV and the stream of news on social media. Instead, read one weekly paper or magazine. Read it in print form, not online which often includes hyperlinks, and read it in one go. Read the least sensationalist paper that is also least reliant on advertising. One recommendation he gives is that he has a few friends who reads the Economist - and exclusively the feature articles (they also have an Editor's Picks podcast which reads aloud three articles from the latest issue).

The news industry is society's appendix - permanently inflamed and completely pointless. You're better off simply having it removed - Rolf Dobelli

Disclaimer: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as counselling/therapy advice or used as a substitute for such. You should always speak to your own counsellor.



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