I was a journalism major at Marshall University when Headline News was being born.   Thanks to the new paradigm, born of the availability of a 24 hour cable news cycle (later a 24 hour online news cycle), there was never a moment when one couldn’t access the latest, breaking news.

This seemed, like so many things, a good idea.  We could become an educated populace, always abreast of the latest information. It would make us intelligent and engaged. It would help us to be advocates, to participate in the political process. To be aware of changes, of dangers, of opportunities.

The news became available to us on cable, then on home computers via the Internet.  And then, by way of our constant attachment to the Internet via our many and varied devices. We need no longer be home to watch the news. It blares at us in the gym, at the gas pump, in the doctor’s office, the barbershop, the mechanic’s waiting room, the ER, the airport and every other place.

Worse, we sign up for services that give us phone alerts for every new story.  We dutifully pull our devices from our pockets and learn that there is ‘breaking news’ of wreck on the nearby highway, or that a Giraffe in Cincinnati made a new Giraffe.  Further breaking news tells us of political scandal or pandemic numbers; sometimes we learn about our diets, other times about the climate.  Too often about entertainers or athletes.  These days it’s all breaking news.

What happened was that we became addicted to the information.   And the providers of information, like dealers of Meth, knew it.  Along the way, quality went down and their control went up.  And it may be that we are the most up-to-date people in history with simultaneously the least depth of understanding ever.  Worse, it hasn’t made us happier.

My patients are often anxious because they watch the news. Life was always scary enough.  But now we get breaking reasons to be afraid.  And we get them all day and all night.  People ‘doomscroll’ on social media, looking not for good news but for news that gives them reason to confirm their own fears.

Young people do it and are filled with fear about everything from COVID to climate to their own well stoked fear that they are hate-filled.  And in particular, I find, seniors do it.  And perhaps they are most tragically afflicted of all.  I know them.  I love them. But all day and all night, in what could be the reflective, wise, loving years of retirement, they watch hour after hour of the same stories with subtle differences. Stories meant to stoke outrage, but carefully giving them the sense that they understand what is happening. But not offering quite enough. It leads them to then devote a few more hours to the news to get the next set of facts, hear the rage of the next commentator and worry just a little more about the future.  A future they (and indeed most of us) have little ability to influence.

This year for Lent, I decided to limit my news and commentary to a couple of hours in the evening.  And even at that, it may come to 20 minutes.  Because a surprising thing happened. I became happier.  I worried less and enjoyed my days more.

And it occurred to me to ask this question, of myself and others.

‘Would your life be substantively different if you watched no news at all for six months?’

The answer, for almost all of us, is a resounding ‘no.’

We would rise in the morning, eat, see our families or friends, work, come home, rest and start again.  The stars would still cross the sky and the sun rise and fall.  And we would go on, blissfully ignorant of the birth of Pandas, the shift of glaciers, the scandals of Washington or the latest celebrity divorces.

Breaking news seems to break our hearts.

You don’t have to go six months.  But for goodness sake, watch the news less.

What is there to lose except worry?




4.8 9 votes
Article Rating