2018: Experiment No. 1

2018 is my year of experiments (Why? TL;DR: New Year’s resolutions are over-rated and have a high failure rate. Anyone can run an experiment for a month.) My first experiment (No news for a month) is nearly done and I’ll declare it a success.

Background

The round-the-clock sensational news cycle exists in large part to create wealth for the already-too-wealthy. Little of it is actionable, leaving us at the same time both outraged and impotent. Mostly I decided to give up on the news because of Donald Trump, the demented psychopathic moron who managed to get elected president.[1] Since Trump took office, like others, I’ve found myself cycling repeatedly through the stages of grief. But mostly I’ve been stuck on anger. There’s something about willful ignorance that does that to me.

Experiment

The methodology was simple. I simply willed myself to avoid the news for an entire month. After briefly considering the use of tools that would block news websites, I decided to go cold-turkey.

Results

Some of the things that I noticed:

  • Airports are saturated with news. I travelled a bit during the month. With TV’s blaring the news in every terminal area, it’s impossible to avoid hearing the news. I learned that a book highly critical of Trump was published and that the man himself was displeased. I learned that Congressional Republicans are trying to stop Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation without looking like that’s what they’re doing.
  • Social media can be a significant vector of news. The sidebar on Facebook likes to trumpet the latest bush crash, earthquake, and political twist. But I also discovered that you can resize your browser to make the sidebar go away. Presto!
  • I tended to want to look at the news when I was bored. If I had a moment of boredom, I’d think about the news. Given that the news is supposed to serve in large part the factual needs of an informed electorate, seeking it out of boredom is more in keeping with the values of the entertainment industry, not those of journalism.
  • Outsourcing the news to others slows down the cycle. It was impossible to avoid the news completely. I heard others talking about political happenings and other current events. In fact, I even asked about them. But by outsourcing the news-seeking to others, I was able to slow down the process and keep it at a distance in a way that made it seem more abstract. I didn’t feel as outraged.
  • I felt more productive Once I eliminated the desire to read the news, I was able to stay with purposeful tasks longer.

Conclusions

After a month of no news, I miss reading good journalism. I may go back to it. Or I may not. The experiment was such a success that it would be hard to go back. The real problem for most of us is that the overlap between our circle of interest (what’s going on in the world) and our circle of influence is very small. David Cain noticed the same thing when he quit the news: “Being concerned makes us feel like we’re doing something when we’re not.”

Now off to my next experiment - a month of practicing a secular technology “sabbath”.


  1. I use these terms very carefully. Many have speculated that he suffers from some form of dementia owing to events where he slurs his words and perseverates. His sociopathic or psychopathic behaviours are well-documented; he is man devoid of empathy. And finally, his lack of reading is well-known. For all I can tell, the man is a functional illiterate. In contrast, his predecessor is a bibliophile and read widely and voraciously throughout his tenure.