My month without news

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” - Socrates

Network emotions

This year I decided to take a different approach to making New Year’s resolutions. Although many people make resolutions, less than 10% regard themselves as successful at achieving them.

I decided to overhaul the idea of New Year’s resolutions. Rather than committing to an entire year of change, I set up a schedule of 12 mini-resolutions in the form of experiments. My first experiment for the month of January was to work out daily. My February experiment was to determine whether avoiding the news and time-boxing my social media interactions would make me happier.

Background

For the entire month of February, I committed to avoiding browsing the news. Since the U.S. elections, I found myself unusually angry, anxious, and unhappy. I hypothesized that the constant stream of bad news about the America’s flirtation with authoritarian rule was seriously distorting my days.

Methods

First, I set limits on my social media use - no Twitter, and only 5 minutes Facebook time per day. I committed to avoiding the primary news sources both on the Internet and elsewhere.

Results

For the month, I did not use Twitter. Setting a 5 minute timer, I limited my Facebook time considerably. By blocking news-heavy feeds, I rarely saw anything political. Throughout the month, I did read a handful of essays that treated the current socio-political session in a more analytical way; so I had a vague idea of what was going on in the U.S. For the most part I was successful in limiting my time on Facebook. Rarely if I was tired or felt in need of a distraction between tedious work, I did look at Facebook more than once during a day.

Over the course of the month, my emotions definitely changed. I felt less angry about the U.S. political affairs. Rather than being outraged, I felt like the process of focusing more on analysis slowed down the whole process for me in a way that made me much less anxious. My productivity was definitely higher by avoiding the distraction of the news.

Discussion

Overall, this was a successful experiment, one that I’d like to continue. For news-junkies, this is anathema. The goings on in Washington, D.C. are, of course, important. But I’m limited in my responses. I can write or call representatives. But I’m registered to vote in Minnesota where all of my representatives and senators are Democrats anyway. The White House shut down its phone lines and I’m pretty sure the current occupants aren’t really interested in what I have to say anyway. And you can’t call Congressional leaders unless you happen to be in their district. I don’t live in the U.S. so I can’t easily march or protest. For me, it has been better to focus on my own circle of influence where I have a sense of agency.

If you’re feeling frustrated over the steady stream of bad news, I’d recommend this experiment.