It’s surprisingly hard to give up following the news. I’m really grateful that I’ve done it for two full weeks now. Last year I went off the news; it was great. I got sucked back in just like I did so many times with sugar: “Oh, a little bit will be okay, after all of …
" /> Jason Holborn | Cybercarnet/Weblog - No News Is Reason For Gratitude

No News Is Reason For Gratitude

It’s surprisingly hard to give up following the news. I’m really grateful that I’ve done it for two full weeks now.

Last year I went off the news; it was great. I got sucked back in just like I did so many times with sugar: “Oh, a little bit will be okay, after all of this time.” I see it clearly in my mind; not the kind of memory wherein you picture yourself (whom you cannot actually see) in a recalled situation, but the kind of memory of what my eyes were seeing at the time: the touchscreen of my little telephone. I remember thinking that after all this news fasting, it would do me good to stay just a little bit connected.

And then I was so plugged in I had to declare an all new, all revamped news fast all over again. Right back to Square One.

I often think how grateful I am to have given up sugar for so long, and how much more grateful I might be if I keep it up, and up, and up. The more time I can pass off of sugar, the more grateful I am.

I will apply the same principle to staying off the news, because let’s face it: the news is a drug, just like sugar.

I still remember the teacher I wanted to impress, who advised us all to listen to the global report summary on the radio at 8am. Five or ten minutes would really keep us up to date on the main events, she counseled us earnestly. She was one smart, experienced (wow!), educated, and traveled global citizen, and I took sincerely to her recommendation.

I still think she’s a top-notch soul and a great person.

And, I’m glad she likes and enjoys the news, and finds in rewarding.

I don’t think that I do, tho. I think it makes me unhappy, I think it gives me negative thought patterns, which I fail at fighting off.

It has a reward: being the smartest person in the room. Or, in my case, the fifth or seventh smartest person in the room, in a crowd of eight or nine. But hey, if you’re running pell-mell from a marauding bear, you only have to be faster than your slowest compatriot.

Many times, I’ve enjoyed the “prestige” of being the “most well-informed person”. People ask me, “So, what’s going on with this situation I keep hearing about?”

And overall, I enjoy people esteeming my balanced views. I know situations and people and events have more nuance than you might infer from reading or watching or listening to one source, and I know situations and people and events have pasts which lead up to and explain them, and unseen, unknown pasts that we have to take into account, as well. You’re never going to hear me say, “Well, the problem is Israel,” or, “Well, the problem is the Palestinians.” The problem is an ancient feud which no one alive, in or out of the Middle East, today even comprehends, fully and wholly.

Those are two nice feelings: they are praise and encouragement and esteem. “Oh, Jason will know,” is very flattering. “You don’t tell me which side I should be on, that’s cool,” is also very flattering.

I feel a certain modest confidence, too. I’m self-effacing — “Oh, I’m hardly an expert, I just read the news,” — yet I feel a confidence in knowing a great many temporary facts.

That’s a reward, too.

So, the news makes me feel bad and puts grumpy, unnerved thought patterns into my head, and it rewards me with good feelings derived from it.

The news makes me feel bad and it gives me a reward, temporarily.

I’m grateful I’ve stayed off of this drug for two weeks now. I will be even more grateful when it is a year.

By the way, the news sucks.

Quick: name a reporter you really think is great and have heard tremendous praise about.

Besides Clark Kent, obviously.

April from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles counts even less.

One. Just one reporter that you’ve heard is really and truly one of the greats, the legends.

Obviously, not Lois Lane, either.

The truth is, I read a lot of papers.

And I can’t name a single reporter who is really one of the greats.

Because there are no greats.

The great writers are working on books.

I’m not a great writer either; I’m not putting reporters down. They’re in a job they chose to be in, in a field they want to be in, and that is beautiful. I’m happy for them.

But I want to invest my reading time wisely.

This past two weeks, I indulged in ‘1776’ by David McCullough; it was a fine read, and I’m going to look up more of his books. I really got a lot out of this read; I’d never heard of Nathanael Greene or Henry Knox before. I saw real, true, clinical depression in George Washington, whom everyone grows antsier and nastier about as he coasts along indecisively and inconclusively, desultory and seemingly aimless. What a portrait of a respected statesman and general and doer, in a mental crisis! I learned a lot, and I read that book in the time I otherwise would have read the news. And I can tell you from experience that I wouldn’t have learned anything meaningful or even relevant from investing myself in the news.

ISIS is not relevant to me. I can’t stop ISIS; I can’t save one person under ISIS’s heel. I can’t write a cheque, I can’t sign a petition, I can’t launch an army, I can’t push a button, I can’t provide shelter or wash feet or offer food or even grab a shovel and dig a ditch or a latrine. There is nothing whatsoever that I can do. Nothing. And reading oodles and oodles about ISIS is a job for the people employed with very comfortable salaries and good livings expressly for the purpose of dealing with ISIS. Me learning about ISIS, whom ironically we obviously KNOW ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ABOUT IN THE FIRST PLACE, is totally useless.

I’m grateful that I read ‘1776’ and I want to read McCullough’s THE GREAT BRIDGE. I’ll be grateful if I read that instead of any news.

I just got a new non-fiction book from the library, titled THE VELVET RAGE, which is pretty much self-help, and will probably therefore be fairly light reading. I’ll be grateful to invest my “newstime” and “newsenergy” into this book.

I have another non-fiction book on my To Read list, about firearms usage in the civil rights struggle, called THIS NON-VIOLENCE STUFF WILL GET YOU KILLED. I read one blurb on theroot.com and was sold; I want to read this book! What a better usage of my reading time than the news. That book constitutes real learning and education. The news does not.

The news is not learning.

The news is gossip. Oh my god, did you hear about Egypt? She’s having a revolution! Oh my god, did you hear about China? He’s all getting up in all of Africa’s pies! What about America? They’re like, so, democratically stalled up!

It is factual, it is true, and yet none of it is educational, none of it is learning.

I’ll be grateful to give that up. I’ll be grateful to devote my reading moments to books and essays instead of the news.

I’m embarrassed I ever read the news so much; I regret the books I missed reading because I had my nose in a newspaper instead.

Reading the news did change my life, it’s true. Without the New York Times online edition, I would never have encountered Gary Taubes’ destiny-orienting article, “Is Sugar Toxic?”

There have been other advantages as well, I can see, however ultimately, that article on sugar consumption is by far the most significant thing that’s ever come out of reading the news, and I can’t help but feel that someone would have steered me towards a book on sugar eventually, anyways.

I want to let the news pass me by.

I’m embarrassed I read the news, and I’m embarrassed further that I got sucked into it.

We’re encouraged to follow current events and stay up to date, and I see and understand how that is a right and a privilege which many in history have been unable to access. But the encouragement to follow the news is the reward of “being an informed citizen”, which is better than being an uninformed citizen.

About five weeks after Hurricane Katrina, I attended a birthday party, and someone commented forebodingly about New Orleans. “Why, what’s happening in New Orleans?,” asked the birthday celebrant.

I guess we all stared back kind of funny, because they followed that up immediately with, “I don’t read the news, I have no idea what’s happening in the world.”

That stunned me.

Not that someone didn’t follow the news, but that even such a person had been able to avoid hearing about anything “happening” in New Orleans.

I judged that person. I silently thought, “Wow, that is totally ridiculous that someone doesn’t know about the virtual loss of a major city, right here on this very side of our own continent.” We share a coastline for Pete’s sake!

Reading the news only made me judgmental of someone who didn’t read the news. It just bolstered my own ego: “Oh, you know, if *I* were in charge, I’d avoid any engagement in Iraq at least until after Afghanistan was 100% behind us in history.” Yes, I’m probably right, by any measure of waging war. Who cares? I’m not the Decider-In-Chief!

Reading the news was injurious to me and I’ll be grateful when I can say I have given it up. I’ll be grateful if I can make it a whole year without knowing any news stories.

I should have envied that birthday celebrant; I might have admired and marveled how self-involved and self-engaged and self-actualizing that person was, that they didn’t waste a single precious minute of any day finding out about irrelevant things they have no agency over to affect. I envy that person today; I hope I might know nothing of the next major “news” event because I’m more focused on my own circle of control, on the things I *can* affect and change. No news is better news.