I have stopped reading newspapers since March 11; it’s been over a month now, and I can report that I am happier in life having given up the news. I still drop in to read David Brooks at the New York Times; I know what days he is published on, and I view him as …
" /> Jason Holborn | Cybercarnet/Weblog - No News Is Good News

No News Is Good News

I have stopped reading newspapers since March 11; it’s been over a month now, and I can report that I am happier in life having given up the news.

I still drop in to read David Brooks at the New York Times; I know what days he is published on, and I view him as an essayist rather than a current events reporter. I have read Chantal Hébert a few times. I look at the weblog CalgaryGrit. I am still (occasionally) interested in Indian newspapers. I have picked up the Epoch Times once; probably, I’ll try it occasionally in the future, too.

I used to be quite a news reader; friends once turned to me to ask about various current situations they were curious about. Reading about the world around me, informing myself, would give me a sense of a fulfilled responsibility. Being au courant was a part of my identity.

Still, I know/knew that newspapers often could affect my mood. I also realize that news media producers seek emotional engagement with their material, and enjoy a negative reaction so much that they will even publish them for everyone to see.

I am surprised to find that I don’t miss the news one bit. I used to like The National Post, the New York Times, Le Figaro, Le Monde, the Wall Street Journal, La Presse, The Guardian, The Washington Post, and more recently, First Post and The Hindu. I used to like MacLean’s and other magazines. I would have guessed that these would be harder to give up.

This minor and trivial scrape with this “reporter” has ultimately taught me a great deal about my interaction with current events reporting: I don’t like it and don’t need or want it. I realize more and more that being “aware” of the news does nothing productive with my life, my energy, and my time. I can’t change the world; I have no power over wars or conflicts or situations, and, surprisingly, I don’t even feel, after a month of not reading any news, that my vote is/was very deeply affected by “awareness” of the news. I have learned that the news is orchestrated to generate bad feelings which compel us to return for more, and that the news is more trivial than I ever before guessed: had I spent hours pouring over reports on the Boston Marathon bombing, what more would I know than I do now? I know everything really worth noting through other people – and it took me only seconds to gain that knowledge. The “news” is mostly political, and politics in the first world today is more a game than a serious venture. A large part of my frustration with the news was often a sense of futilely wasting time: the gamesmanship between political parties is not news.

Most importantly, though, I have learned a deeper appreciation of Science news. The mainstream news is geared to manipulate us into a feeling of fear and anxiety about the world; the negative feelings that urge us to find out more and more are instilled deliberately, I am convinced. It is not a sinister or Machiavellian plot; just a reflection of some of our human instincts and workings. Science news is different; it is generally more positive and optimistic, and about human energy expended productively, rather than in internecine games. Science news has made me care less and less about the partisan bickering that once aggravated me, and made me see a larger arc to the story of our world today. Barack Obama said earlier this year that there is no easy answer to the centuries-old debate about the proper role of government; I think he is right. There are no easy answers to debates and questions in Science circles and news, either, but when I read about new applications of technology and new discoveries in biology or space exploration, I at least get a good feeling about how we as a species are doing, and I feel good about our big picture, despite the games we engage in politically today.

I have no intention of picking up newspapers again; I hope I remember for a long while how much better I feel today, having given them up. Science news makes me feel good; mainstream “journalism” is mostly idle speculation. I know enough about “politics” to know that I don’t wish to know any more. I don’t know enough about Science!

Who remembers any politicians from Newton’s day, or Archimedes’ time? I don’t. Science is a bigger story, perhaps, than the development and organization of human society. That development may even be, ultimately, just a sub-plot in the story of science.