No News Is Good News

Titanic

How would you like an extra 90+ hours per year to focus on whatever you’d like? You can spend more time with your family, pursue a passion, make more Benjamins, or do all of these since we’re talking about a lot of time. But that’s not all. How would you like a more positive view of life and the world? Perhaps you’d like to generate more energy and consistently add more value to those around you? Here is all you need to do.

Stop consuming generalized news in any form. Or at the very least, dramatically minimize your intake. This means TV, newspapers, radio, and most particularly, “online anything” through a browser or specialized app. It also includes Twitter and Facebook consumption, sharing, and commenting on the viral news topics of the moment. This 90 hour figure is based on 15 minutes per day of news and gossip consumption. Many of us spend far more than that.

Why Generalized News Is Holding You Back

Consuming news does not make you a more informed citizen. That’s because there is a ton that “happens” you will never read about or see on television. In addition, you have the power to be your own scrutinizing information news editor, selecting and discerning whatever specialized information you would like versus having generalized and often poorly crafted content serially curated for you by a team of editors more concerned about eyeball and revenue generation than informing us with valuable and actionable insights.

Staying on top of so-called current events does not make you more productive or effective at your job. I’m thinking about the last ten years I spent in CRM at three different companies. Not once do I ever remember anyone, including me, benefitting from reading or discussing the general news. I constantly speak with people in senior management at tech companies during my early AM gym workouts. Most cannot be bothered with the news. They simply have too much else going on.

Being a news junkie does not make you more interesting to your family, friends or colleagues. Actually, it may contribute to you holding unnecessarily divisive views about politics, economics and society in general. To break down my own divisiveness habits, I’m thinking of embarking on an experiment. It’s called, “Five Things I Admire About XXX.” This is where I will research and write down five things I learn and highly respect about multiple politicians on both sides of the aisle I seemingly “dislike” based on the information previously drip fed to me. I won’t name names here for obvious reasons. But I’m fairly confident doing this will soften my “positions” up quite a bit until I’m as pliable as a tub of butter left on the counter all day long. Seriously, a recurring theme you’ll hear from me is that we’re all in this together.

The news does not empower you to take more productive action in the world. Sadly, the opposite may be true because of the considerable time wasted consuming the news. And complaining does nothing good for anyone within hearing range, including yourself. Sure, you could write to your friendly government representative. And while that may sound appealing, have you ever actually emailed a senator or congressperson? I have plenty of times. It feels psychically rewarding in the moment. And then a few months later when you finally receive an automated response, you realize you weren’t recognized. As for those “constituents” I’ve often heard politicians talk about,  I don’t know who they are, but I know they are not me.

Instead, do you feel like starting a peaceful movement? That’s something different entirely. Rock on, I salute you!

Reading high quality news will not improve your reading, writing and thinking skills any more than reading any other high quality literature will, like a great book. The “read the New York Times to succeed in life” fable was drilled into my head as a kid. I can still hear the loud admonition. “Read the New York Times cover to cover every day! Or else you’ll end up at UMass!!” Wow, that’s a fate worse than death. Well, actually I’ll cede a bit of ground on this one. The New York Times is still very well written. But there are so many other ways of becoming a better learner and communicator. Incidentally I did go to UMass Amherst and have done A-OK in life, thank you very much. Go Minutemen!

Here’s what the news does. It wastes our time, demoralizes us, and most importantly, gives us an extremely distorted and pessimistic sense of what is going on in the world. Case in point: We’re now living in the most dangerous time in history, correct? Of course not! By any one of several measures we are living in the most peaceful times ever. In fact, nearly 1.35 billion people came home from their local movie theater last year without getting shot in the head. But that doesn’t make for an attention getter, does it? Seriously, the news can’t help but move us toward a world view that does not align with what is actually taking place in the world. This is individually debilitating and collectively dangerous.

Please keep in mind I’m talking about generalized news. By all means selectively follow specialized news that will help you advance in your profession, become more skilled in the mastery of your passions, train you how to become a better parent, or kick ass in just about any other learnable skill.

I love using Feedly for discrete information grabbing to stay on top of tech/gadget news, a smidgen of business information, and a lot of career and personal development blogs like this, this, and this, just for starters. I also listen to podcasts.

Here is one exception to my tirade, and I write this hesitatingly. if you live in the United States and want to stay on top of what the most powerful 538 politicians on the planet are up to, I give you permission to add Politico’s Top 10 Huddle to your Feedly. It’s the closest thing I’ve found to a daily play by play of what happened in the U.S. Congress. I spend about five minutes with this news source once per week.

And now that I’ve perhaps annoyed you during this visit together, let me assure you it’s because I care about you far more than NBCUniversal, CBS, Disney-ABC, CNN, Rupert Murdoch, or the Sulzberger family do. And I can guarantee that significantly reducing your consumption of generalized news will increase your levels of inner peace AND help you make more money provided you direct your attention to specialized information you can learn from.

I almost forgot – PBS Newshour, NPR News, and BBC News are out too.

So, how have my news consumption habits changed? In the last year I’ve gone from reading the New York Times and Wall Street Journal daily — plus watching or listening to a couple of hours of news each week, to spending about 15 to 30 minutes with the Economist per week, plus yes, a COUPLE of NPR stories I find and listen to online. I also spend more time reading Harvard Business Review — versus letting my $99 per year subscription languish — and find it a refreshingly optimistic source of practical business thinking and best practices. Oh, and did I mention that for nearly the past year I haven’t had a full-time job. I write this because if anybody has time to bury himself in the fine details of the latest Hollywood divorce rumors, it is me.

Lest you think I’m being extreme with all of this, Rolf Dobelli wrote a lengthy, thought-provoking, and far more blunt essay on this topic five years ago. It is worth a slow and deliberate review. He asserts that news stories are delivered like little bits of wrapped candy that cause us to focus on what may be “new” and sweet but are most often not relevant. And just like what sugar does to the body, news corrodes our mind. It puts us in a state of more chronic stress. It increases our natural ability to make cognitive errors that impair our thinking skills. And it makes us more passive and less creative. 

If I have slightly soured your mood during the last six minutes of estimated reading time, then I have GREAT news for you. My wife says I am consistently more cheerful and upbeat these days. Yippee! And this is the promise I hold out for you. Now let’s go forth and create!

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