Wanna Join Me in a News Fast?
It’s time for me to go on a news fast. That means a complete break from reading any news site, including the various social media channels where I get a lot of my news.
Wanna join me? I’ll tell you some of the reasons why I do these from time to time, and why I’m starting one right now.
(1) Anything can be addictive that pretends to meet a real need, but leaves it unmet while intensifying the need. I have a need to take action to do something about the state of the world. Well, lately I find that instead of taking action I read about it instead. When I indulge my outrage and indignation, it seems like I’m doing something. I’m being concerned. I’m feeling passionate. But all I have actually accomplished is to read so-and-so’s Telegram channel. Yeah OK, I’m “informed” now, but so what?
That isn’t to say being informed is useless. But if all I do is to stay informed, I’m really not doing anything at all. I can tell myself that I need to be informed as a citizen and especially as a writer; however, most of the information doesn’t serve either. It just presses the same emotional buttons again and again in my bloated amygdala.
(2) I fast from the news for the same reason some people fast from food. The digestive organs get tired and clogged if they never get a break. When digestion ceases, the body can mobilize its resources to clear out metabolic wastes, detoxify cells, and reset metabolism. OK, I’ve been taking in too much information, more than I can efficiently digest. My mental organs of digestion have become clogged with partially-digested information. A break from the news allows me unclog my mind.
(3) Most of the news I read deals with certain controversial issues that are at the forefront of public attention, especially the attention of those who produce and propagate it. These sources may diametrically oppose each other in their opinions, but they collude in a tacit agreement about what “the issues” are. They agree that these are what are worthy of our attention. They may disagree violently about the answers, but they agree on the questions. When I read the news, I agree to put my mind here. I buy into a certain assumption about what conversation to be having.
What gets left out of that assumption? Maybe there are other important things happening in life and the world that no one considers newsworthy. What questions have I been ignoring under media hypnosis? I cannot easily attune to them if the news clogs my organs of perception. When I read a lot of news I think the same old thoughts and notice the same old things. Other ways of seeing, thinking, and knowing atrophy. It’s time for me to revitalize them.
(4) The specific information in the news changes all the time, but even if one absorbs news from multiple perspectives, many of the basic motifs remain the same. The motif of crisis, of blame, of us-versus-them, right versus wrong, winners and losers, smart and stupid, well-informed and ignorant… When I read too much news without a break, these motifs imprint themselves onto my brain, and I become less able to operate outside them. Even when I am conscious of them, they live inside me and color my perceptions. I start seeing the world their way.
(5) When I read too much news, sitting in front of my computer, and interact with actual human beings less, then I start to see human beings—and the world—as the news depicts them. They become occupants of the categories and roles that the media defines. One might say they become mediated. Media-ated. I meet someone and wonder what media-defined category of human they belong to. These categories may be real and useful, but not when they overwhelm all the other ways of knowing someone. When I break from the news media, these categories start to fade and I recover more human, intimate, direct ways of relating to others.
I also recover my view of the beauty of this world, still majestic despite the assault upon it. Despite all the horror, still the joy far outweighs the suffering. I was reminded of that today by a huge flock of geese calling exuberantly as they flew south. Why are they constantly calling out instead of conserving their energy for flight? Maybe there is a “scientific” explanation (something about dominance order or flock aerodynamic adjustments), but in that moment I knew—I could hear it plainly—that they were calling from a surfeit of life force, from the irrepressible joy of being alive, like a boy shouting “Yee-haw! Yippee!” as he plays in the surf. That’s the kind of information that news media immersion shuts out of my field. When I go too long without that nourishment, I turn as sour as the media. It doesn’t suffice to shift to more “positive” sources and just read about beauty. I need the real thing.
It isn’t quite that human and natural beauty presents a counterargument to media cynicism and gloom. It is more like a quiet whisper that reaches every cell, saying, “This too, this too.”
We speak a lot about information. What is information, really? It is that which comes in and forms us.
I’ve gone on news fasts before, anywhere from weeks to months. They have always been a potent reset. And you know what—I never missed out on anything important. I’m sure this time that if something truly momentous happens, such as a zombie apocalypse, AI takeover, world disarmament, mandatory microchipping of all humans and their pets, Judgment Day, or Kylie Jenner’s baby shower, I will find out about it somehow.
I’ll confess as well to a certain sense of futility that has visited me repeatedly over the last couple years. When I engage with the current social calamity on the terms in which the media defines it—including, I must add, the alternative media—I contribute to that framing. Within it, I can only add my voice to one side or another. There is nothing inherently wrong with taking sides. Sometimes one must intervene to stop immediate harm. Usually, though, and especially today, that is not all that must be done. Taking sides ignores the origin of the conflict and all that is invisible through its lens. What are the assumptions that both sides accept? What are the questions neither side asks? To see these clearly, sometimes I have to step outside the whole thing.
It is probably a good practice for anyone who comments on current affairs to sometimes step out of current affairs. So, I will refrain from commenting on them for the duration of my fast. Perhaps at the end of it I’ll have something new to say.
I’m not sure how long that will be. It might be a week or two, could be longer. As in a fast from food, rather than set a time limit, I prefer to trust my body’s signals. With attention, one can feel when a resetting process is complete. In the meantime, I will share with you other ideas that become audible in the silence. Anyone who wants to join me on my news fast can keep reading this blog—I promise not to write anything newsworthy!
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