In my last post I discussed the problems of online news and why this can easily lead to an unhealthy “unmindful consumption” of news. The impact of online news on our attention can be significant and distract us from things that really matter to us.
If you’ve never tried it before in your adult life, try cutting out news entirely. Don’t make an unrealistic commitment to do this forever, just try it for a limited period. Do it for a week, or a month – or whatever length of time would be enough to push your comfort zone. If you’re a total online news junkie, 24 hours without news may be challenging enough.
It might be that checking the news has become so habitual that even after setting the intention not to check the news, you find yourself doing anyway. It’s worth blocking out news for a period just as an exercise in self-awareness and self-discipline.
You might be uncomfortable with not checking the news due to a fear of missing out on important events. But for most people, the reality is that following the 24-hour news cycle won’t really have an impact in their personal lives. Whether it’s the detail of Brexit negotiations or Trump’s latest antics, it’s just not that useful unless it’s necessary for your work, or you’re planning to take part in activism. Passively consuming news on a daily basis may help you to develop your opinions on current affairs, but it probably won’t lead to substantial developments in your political views. If you’re spending half an hour a day or more following news, there are probably much better ways to spend that time. You’re better off with a good book.
Beginning a year of news detox
I’ve cut news out of my life before, and I found it liberating, but I always returned to bad habits when it comes to news consumption.
Part of the reason for that is that I don’t want to cut out news entirely. There is some value in knowing what is going on in the world. But I don’t want to continue to spend time on news on a daily basis and continue to use news as a distraction.
I am looking for a more deliberate, mindful and controlled way of consuming news. I think the ideal would be a half hour session each week reading a digest of the week’s news, perhaps with a little time to explore topics of interest in more depth. The news industry is not designed to support this. Like most online platforms, news platforms are designed to distract. They profit more the more we use them, so they have no incentive to be offering good weekly digests. When they do produce anything like this, it’s more likely to be in the form of a weekly news quiz, which inevitably suggests that we haven’t been following the news closely enough and need to become more dedicated.
For the next year I will be undertaking a news detox, in which I stop consuming news on a daily basis. Each month I will be experimenting with a different way of consuming news on a weekly basis in a single session.
In the first month, I will go cold turkey: no news whatsoever. The first challenge will be overcoming the urge to check the news, as this has become habitual. Once I have done that for a month, the new habit should be ingrained enough to build in some news on a weekly basis.
Would you like to join me in cutting out news? Can you suggest any good weekly news digests I might try out? Share your thoughts below.
Read the next post in this series: News detox: breaking out of the habit loop.