26 votes

Given up sugar? Great, now it’s time to cut the news from your diet

18 comments

  1. [11]
    patience_limited
    Link
    I don't think it's a surprise to anyone here that I am a news addict. Though I'm discerning about sources, it's again causing me undue distress. Last night, I had a long, vivid nightmare about...
    • Exemplary

    I don't think it's a surprise to anyone here that I am a news addict. Though I'm discerning about sources, it's again causing me undue distress.

    Last night, I had a long, vivid nightmare about exploding airplanes, where I was a helpless spectator on the ground. My dreams tend to have the whole sensory array, so my dream self in the terminal got flensed by flying glass, then engulfed in burning clouds of fuel vapor. Somehow, I also had to grieve dead friends afterward.

    I woke up nauseated with dread, and it's still affecting me. The neurochemistry of what is experienced in imagination is no different in kind from that of genuinely lived experience; the only difference is in intensity.

    I have to consider that the invasion of my sleeping mind is symptomatic of over-immersion in news. The last few days of pervasive anxiety from trying to read (I avoid video news) every conceivable reputable source on Trump's Iran folly hasn't made me more able to act or live positively in the world.

    I've come to believe that there is such a thing as information toxicity - a nebulous form of brain damage caused by chronic exposure to attention-grabbing, fear-inducing, empathy-draining stories and images, ultimately akin to post-traumatic stress disorder. It's distinct from "information overload", because modern news is generally uninformative beyond the details of a scary or exciting event, presented in isolation from history and factual context.

    As a kid, back when Ronald Reagan was the U.S. President, I'd have the same kind of nightmares about nuclear war, until I stopped watching television altogether for 10 years. Perhaps coincidentally, I was less depressed, spent more and better time with other people, was more creative and productive, and generally healthier.

    And so this article, arriving in my inbox this morning, was completely serendipitous.

    So I'm wondering if anyone else wants to join me in News-Free January. I'll still be following some science and technology sources, or perusing longform articles and books. But my daily headline dribble of fear and lust is banished for a while - unsubscribing newsletters, removing the Feedly and FT apps, and so on.

    Feel free to comment or relate below.

    19 votes
    1. [3]
      Comment deleted by author
      Link Parent
      1. [2]
        patience_limited
        Link Parent
        I fell hard for "wise people stay informed of current events", partly because my mother taught the subject, and who was I to argue... It seemed like being a good scientist, to gather data on the...

        I fell hard for "wise people stay informed of current events", partly because my mother taught the subject, and who was I to argue... It seemed like being a good scientist, to gather data on the empirical state of the world and try to discover the hidden patterns and levers before arriving at ideology and purpose.

        There have been times in my life where having an understanding of what was going on outside my neighborhood really did pay off, but more times where I'd be blindsided by events. I think there's a place for both your "active conversations" and the passive temperature checks on the world, it's just that my balance between the two is fucked up.

        5 votes
        1. [2]
          Comment deleted by author
          Link Parent
          1. patience_limited
            Link Parent
            I worked hard not to post everything I ran across that was interesting or significant because I assumed people had their own sources, and didn't want Tildes to look like the Reddit Front Page!...

            I worked hard not to post everything I ran across that was interesting or significant because I assumed people had their own sources, and didn't want Tildes to look like the Reddit Front Page!

            There've also been complaints about too much U.S.-focused content, and that's where a significant chunk of my subscriptions come from.

            5 votes
    2. NaraVara
      Link Parent
      I'm inclined to agree. I think TV is the worst at it, but sensationalist headlines on social media are a very close second. Too much trying to get my attention instead of just giving me the...

      I've come to believe that there is such a thing as information toxicity - a nebulous form of brain damage caused by chronic exposure to attention-grabbing, fear-inducing, empathy-draining stories and images, ultimately akin to post-traumatic stress disorder.

      I'm inclined to agree. I think TV is the worst at it, but sensationalist headlines on social media are a very close second. Too much trying to get my attention instead of just giving me the information. Too much bad attempts at contextualizing. And too much of it delivered in contexts where my higher brain isn't engaged (as on a bus or waiting in line), so my BS detector isn't as active as it is when I sit down and read with intention.

      11 votes
    3. [2]
      kfwyre
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      I've talked about this before on Tildes, but I left social media in 2016 as a result of how ugly everything got. I was already souring on reddit and Facebook at the time, but the election (and...
      • Exemplary

      I've talked about this before on Tildes, but I left social media in 2016 as a result of how ugly everything got. I was already souring on reddit and Facebook at the time, but the election (and those sites' algorithms) seemed to bring out the worst in everyone.

      Despite deleting accounts, I still checked in on things, particularly reddit, sans account. It felt wrong not to! So MUCH was going on! It wasn't until part of the way through 2017 that I cut things off completely, including all online news, after realizing that being online brought nearly nothing of value to my life and was, in fact, a significant net negative. I don't want to say it was entirely because of Trump, but it was mostly because of him. When it wasn't him, it was what he started. Seemingly every hour there was a new conflict related to him, sparked by him, or about him. In the rare instances that it wasn't, the participants reminded me of him. I think he has done irreparable harm to the fabric of our society and the manner in which we treat others, though I also think that's attributing too much to one person. We all have to own our own behaviors too, and one of the most depressing things for me was seeing people that I loved and respected deeply acting so terribly to others online.

      For part of 2017 and most of 2018 (pretty much until I joined Tildes) I was what I call "digitally homeless." I didn't check the news, I didn't check feeds. I didn't go on social media. I still wanted a place to hang out online, but there wasn't anywhere that I knew of that wasn't a social hellscape.

      When I first eliminated everything, I found that I would compulsively unlock my phone and go to click on apps to check for updates, realizing that the only one that would actually have any updates was my e-mail (for which I have push notifications anyway). I was pursuing a sort of "novelty stimulus" -- something that was there that wasn't there before. It didn't matter what it was; all that mattered was that it was new. I don't have the psychological chops or research to back this up, but I suspect part of the reason feeds and news work doesn't have to do with what's specifically in them but more that they offer constant doses of newness that can be processed and responded to or ignored. Newness of any kind is actionable, even when it prompts a decision for inaction (as it usually does). Sameness, however, isn't actionable. It's flat. Boring. Uninteresting.

      I didn't realize how attentionally compromised I was until I didn't have anything to check on my phone. After getting rid of all my feeds, I noticed that I had magically uncovered more time during my day. I'm someone who is nearly constantly working or in motion. I make to-do lists obsessively. I complete tasks efficiently. Yet I didn't realize how much time I was spending checking feeds as a filler activity or mental downtime. Certainly we all need to decompress from work and life, and I think a lot of us use feed time for that purpose, but I think many of us probably overuse it. I know I did. I could read the news for an hour, and, at the end of that hour, not be able to tell you a single story that I'd read or new thing I'd learned. It was all just noise to me -- often distressing noise.

      I realized that spending an hour with purpose was much better than spending a purposeless hour, even if the hour was completely unproductive. I could sit and sip coffee while petting my dog in my lap, which aided decompression more than any feeds ever did. I could put on some music or catch up on texts. I could get done a lot of reading or listening to an audiobook in an hour. I could run laundry, do the dishes, find that cable I'd been trying to find for weeks.

      I could also write. One of the things I like about Tildes is that lengthy comments are permitted and even appreciated. I can type out something that requires sustained mental effort. Writing is, for me, the opposite of feed checking. Both of them can eat up an hour or two, but writing puts me into a flow state where I'm able to produce something of substance with a start and a finish and a whole lot of meaningful process inbetween, while feed checking has a sort of numbing, impersonal quality that divorces me from all meaningful processing.

      My "digitally homeless" period helped me realize that much of modern media is little more than attentional clutter. It's the psychological equivalent of a messy, disorganized room. I had gotten so used to this that I didn't realize that I was living in what amounted to an extreme hoarding situation. My attentional clutter had gotten so bad that I wasn't aware that it was impeding my ability to do other things.

      I know this because, despite my detox, I'm still susceptible to the pulls of modern media. I'm not free of my novelty compulsion. Tildes is the only social media site I use, and I check it way more than I should. This is what makes me appreciate the site's "slowness" so much. I'm not rewarded with a whole bunch of new stuff when I refresh 60 seconds after my last visit. Another habit that I picked up while on my feed detox was obsessively updating apps, because Google Play's update queue was another kind of feed for me. I still check to see if my phone has any app updates at a rate of three to five times per day.

      There are times where I wonder if I've done permanent attentional damage to myself. There are other times where I feel like I'm externalizing way too much and need to simply take control and stop blaming feeds and news for my own choices. There are times I miss the constant updates on everything. And then there are times where I wonder if I, deep down inside, I actually value the numbing distress of negative news because it meets some need for me.

      I don't have the answers, but I can say with confidence that my digital downsizing was a significant net positive in my life. In the weeks after I stopped reading news about Trump, I remember this overwhelming feeling of calmness and comfort washing over me. It was like the world suddenly seemed better, kinder, and quieter. In couples' therapy, there's a concept called "negative sentiment override" which is where resentments have built to a point that you no longer notice anything positive about your partner, and even neutral or positive actions get interpreted in the harshest and most negative light. In the words of Tildes, its when you lose the principle of charity for the other person and suspect them of being a troll or bad actor.

      News about Trump and the conflicts it caused were my "negative sentiment override," but for the entire world. They textured everything in the worst possible way. Modern living was a perpetual source of unhappiness. After cutting out news, that changed for me. The override is no longer with me, at least not in a broad sense. I definitely still experience it in some arenas (e.g. teaching, for anyone who has read nearly any of my posts on my career here), but it's no longer there for everything. I can find good in life and beauty in things. There's joy to be had.

      Based on your post, it sounds like you're experiencing some of what I was prior to me cutting off my feeds, and it sounds like you're experiencing the news' negative effects to a much greater degree. I think detoxing is absolutely the right move, and I support you in your actions. We like to think that an informed citizen is a good one, but if being informed is exacting a significant personal toll, then kick any and all informational vampires to the curb! The institutions that would try to take from you your own happiness do not deserve your attention. I hope you're able to find peace.

      6 votes
      1. patience_limited
        Link Parent
        I'd already gone through a very careful news source curation after 9/11, because I thought U.S. reporting was so jingoistic and biased. I had long given up on video news because I didn't need...

        I'd already gone through a very careful news source curation after 9/11, because I thought U.S. reporting was so jingoistic and biased. I had long given up on video news because I didn't need those pictures in my head. I never became an intensive social media user, because I'd already seen hints of what a privacy and groupthink nightmare it could become, even back in the BBS and Usenet days. I'd seen the people around me turn weird from that stuff, and just spent the time on reading instead.

        Trump, Cambridge Analytica, etc. gave me a tiny, bitter sense of vindication that I wasn't the weird one for trying to stay grounded in reality. The big change was that I gave up listening to public radio news for a long time as well, because it was so depressing to hear the commentators acting like the world was still normal.

        Though I had a minor presence on IRC and G+, most of my news consumption came directly from sources, and I'd have to make a conscious effort to seek them out.

        My work day also used to put very clear boundaries on my news consumption. Since I'm not back to work yet, I've been creeping up on two hours a day doing nothing but reading news or digging for story detail, on top of increased exposure at the gym. Northern winter isn't helping - it's much too easy to slouch into the warm comfy chair and let the excitement come to me.

        I got the Guardian app, and the Financial Times app,
        and the ProPublica app, and already had Feedly and Google News was right there on my phone, and suddenly newsletters became a thing...

        As you indicate, that twitchy need for repeated novel stimuli has been growing, like a drug tolerance and addiction model. I can still read at book length (I'm pretty well-trained to regain focus following e-mail and call interruptions), but for some reason, movies and shows aren't holding my attention the way they used to. My studies are faltering.

        I was deeply grateful to find Tildes and have a way to engage with people that didn't involve toxic amplifications of disinformation, sensory overload, and the numbing drumbeat of constant negative events. I've felt a strong need to contribute content in support of maintaining the Tildes community, so I had been trying to post at least one interesting or informative topic every day or two, which does involve regular news exposure.

        I hadn't found that level of engagement especially distressing before. Unfortunately, I think the Soleimani assassination proved particularly toxic because of the endless rabbit-hole of anxious what-ifs and more news (complete with graphic photos and videos) to answer questions that it triggered.

        So it's as you suggest - I'm cutting out the easiest distractors, and refocusing on deeper information, relationships, and activities. At least one of those hours of mental junk food consumption is going to get spent to build a regular meditation schedule again; that's been one of the best layers of insulation against avoidant behaviors.

        I may contribute less often to Tildes, but I'm trying to contribute better.

        5 votes
    4. [2]
      nothis
      Link Parent
      Does Tildes count as "news"? The article doesn't seem to be anti-article but very specifically about "daily news". It actually praises good longform articles. I had this thought before, that the...

      Does Tildes count as "news"? The article doesn't seem to be anti-article but very specifically about "daily news". It actually praises good longform articles.

      I had this thought before, that the biggest time-wasting potential of sites like reddit is the daily-ness of it and it shouldn't be too hard to bypass that. Simply visiting once a week and filtering by "popular in the last 7 days" should do the trick. But it takes some restraint. It would be nice to have a site (or a feature here?) that very specifically encourages that type of content and general viewing.

      3 votes
      1. patience_limited
        Link Parent
        There's certainly topical content here, though it's not the bulk of the site. I don't think I'd blamed Tildes for my issues, though. I'd just meant that I spent some daily time finding worthwhile...

        There's certainly topical content here, though it's not the bulk of the site.

        I don't think I'd blamed Tildes for my issues, though. I'd just meant that I spent some daily time finding worthwhile material to post, and that necessarily involved news reading.

        3 votes
    5. [3]
      moocow1452
      Link Parent
      I've bounced between removing the Google News app and getting bored and putting it back on. I'll try and find something else to keep me occupied.

      I've bounced between removing the Google News app and getting bored and putting it back on. I'll try and find something else to keep me occupied.

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        Comment deleted by author
        Link Parent
        1. moocow1452
          Link Parent
          I have a call center job, so that takes care of my time management skills. I found comics work, using Kindle or Marvel Unlimited, whatever's on sale. Hoopla is free through your library, if you...

          I have a call center job, so that takes care of my time management skills. I found comics work, using Kindle or Marvel Unlimited, whatever's on sale. Hoopla is free through your library, if you have it go for that.

          2 votes
      2. patience_limited
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        "Keeping occupied" is part of the problem, I think. Maybe boredom and confrontations with our inner life are good for us in some way. @NaraVara mentioned the presence of the drama stream as a...

        "Keeping occupied" is part of the problem, I think. Maybe boredom and confrontations with our inner life are good for us in some way.

        @NaraVara mentioned the presence of the drama stream as a constant background noise, passing perceptual filters whether you choose to pay attention or not. There's evidence that noise alone, even without the provocative information content, is stressful.

        Since I don't watch video news voluntarily, I don't have much immunity when I have to be in places with news running on big screens, like gyms, hotels, and airports. It's surprising to me that people with seizure disorders don't complain about screens flickering with jump cuts, chyrons, captions, and other attention grabbers. The news shows feel more like the slot machines displays in Vegas, than reliable sources of information.

        Google News is just... I'm really frightened of that feed, especially when I have to clear my entire profile periodically to make sure that I can see what things look like without my personalized slant. Sure, it's free, but remember what the product is, and how reliable we've found "Don't be evil."

        Edit: I found myself a little anxious in the car today because the radio was off. Driving felt lonelier without that stream of public radio news voices, but I actually paid more attention to how I was driving, instead of going on autopilot. Something to consider as I undertake more of this detox period - what important things am I neglecting or doing less well than I could with time for conscious practice?

        4 votes
  2. [2]
    cardigan
    Link
    I have not read the news for close to a decade. For example, I do not know who all of the US democratic presidential candidates are, or what they look like. The important things have a way of...

    I have not read the news for close to a decade. For example, I do not know who all of the US democratic presidential candidates are, or what they look like.

    The important things have a way of trickling down to you. I heard about the Iran thing by coming across a protest on the street.

    The 24-hour news cycle is just another tool used to keep people fearful and malleable, able to be whipped into a nationalist frenzy when it's time for another war, or into a panic when there's a chance they might organize themselves.

    6 votes
    1. patience_limited
      Link Parent
      So I agree with you about the manipulative nature of the news cycle. However, I've been in the "meta" bind of paying attention because I thought I needed to know what other people were paying...

      So I agree with you about the manipulative nature of the news cycle. However, I've been in the "meta" bind of paying attention because I thought I needed to know what other people were paying attention to, and how the propaganda machine worked.

      At the same time, I successfully avoided nearly all sports, entertainment, and other seemingly frivolous news filler, so it wasn't really about seeking superficial connections with other people. The knowledge was defensive, trying to get ahead of whatever passions or rages were stirred that day.

      4 votes
  3. [4]
    joplin
    Link
    A coworker of mine suggested the Reuters app on the AppleTV. (I'm sure it exists for other devices, too.) Basically it's straightforward reading of the news without commentary or well-known...

    A coworker of mine suggested the Reuters app on the AppleTV. (I'm sure it exists for other devices, too.) Basically it's straightforward reading of the news without commentary or well-known personalities and he claims without a noticeable bias. You can tell it how long you want to watch (I think the options are 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or 1 hour), and it will curate a video feed of top stories for you. I haven't tried it myself yet, but am planning to.

    2 votes
    1. [3]
      patience_limited
      Link Parent
      That's a helpful-sounding tool, thanks! I think I need a total break from "top stories" for a little while, though. I'm still trying to figure out how to avoid the TVs at the gym.

      That's a helpful-sounding tool, thanks! I think I need a total break from "top stories" for a little while, though. I'm still trying to figure out how to avoid the TVs at the gym.

      2 votes
      1. [2]
        joplin
        Link Parent
        I understand. I already limit my news intake severely, so I get it.

        I understand. I already limit my news intake severely, so I get it.

        1 vote
        1. patience_limited
          Link Parent
          And... I just looked at the Tildes feed about the Ukrainian 737 crash. Not such a good idea when the initial trigger for this was dreams of burning planes, but I don't really want to shut off...

          And... I just looked at the Tildes feed about the Ukrainian 737 crash. Not such a good idea when the initial trigger for this was dreams of burning planes, but I don't really want to shut off ~news discussions, either. 😣

          1 vote
  4. Douglas
    Link
    For me it was switching from just consuming news, to consuming news that has calls to action. Crooked Media’s been great about finishing their dire segments with what you, the listener, can do:...

    For me it was switching from just consuming news, to consuming news that has calls to action. Crooked Media’s been great about finishing their dire segments with what you, the listener, can do: namely who to donate your time or money to.

    Those calls and volunteering my resources makes me feel more in control as best it can.

    2 votes