Stop reading the news

One of the people I read to give me ideas, strategies and direction is Ryan Holiday. A great deal of what we do here at Whaleoil comes from his ideas. One of his books is my bible.

Now you may think I am giving up our secrets, but the reality is no one will bother to try to emulate me, for a start they don’t have the work ethic I do, and they aren’t prepared to do what it takes.

That said, Ryan Holiday makes some observations about the media and politics:

The last few months have been particularly unhappy ones for me. Not because there was anything wrong in my life; on the contrary, in my life things were going surprisingly well. The source of my misery? I was caught up in the news cycle.

I told myself it was partly my job. But the reality is, I was doing less of my job. How could it have been otherwise? I’d become consumed by a divisive, contentious, scandal driven news loop. Twitter. Google News. Apple News. Facebook. Longreads and hot takes via Instapaper. CNN. Email conversations. NPR.

My media diet had gone from abstemious to addicted. As someone who is normally self-disciplined, I felt guilty about the time I was wasting and the energy I spent emoting about things far beyond me, and yet, I could not control it. I know I am not the only one—the most common thing I’ve heard from people the last few months is: I can’t wait for this election to be over so I can go back to work. I’d venture to guess that there is someone else, who deep down, can at least relate to that sentiment: Fellow (and admitted) news junkie and, now President-elect, Donald Trump.

It’s time we all came to terms with our compulsion: How is anyone going to make America or themselves great again—if we’re all glued to our devices and television screens? How can anyone maintain their sanity when everything you read, see, and hear is designed to make you stop whatever you’re doing and consume because the world is supposedly ending?

His solution? Give up the news, it is mostly fake anyway.

At the core of it, viewers think that staying informed and ‘reacting’ to the news is a form of participation (helping their favorite causes, teams or stocks) and elites have taken it for granted that media narratives are a window into the people’s will. But is it? When news sites deliberately create and cultivate outrage to get clicks, is what people are pissed off about online really an indicator of anything? Do you really care about half the things you share on social media—or do you ‘care’ about it as much as you care about the twists and turns of the latest Netflix series? Leaders might also claim that they need to be ‘informed’ too—and yet in an increasingly partisan or filtered world, their choices of media simply tell everyone what they want to hear (It’s interesting to think Obama, Romney, Trump and Clinton all went into their final election nights confident that the polls showed they each would win). Propaganda was originally about manipulating the people. Today, sites like Breitbart or Alternet (and their peers in other niches) create propaganda designed to resonate in the halls of power—designed to fool the Overton Window and direct decisions.

This has directly led to the rise and power of the Social Justice Bullies who seem outraged every single day. It’s bullshit.

For our part, we’ve internalized this idea that what we chatter about, share, react to and comment on makes an impact. Yet has it? I would argue that we’ve begun to experience a sort of scandal immunity. We’re aghast at what is exposed to us…yet no real changes result from it. No one is listening to you—they’re laughing at you. They’re glad you’re distracted. They’re happy you’re posting on social media, because it means you’re not showing up at city council meetings, because it means you’re not voting.

Anyone remember #Kony2012 – yeah, well, Joseph Kony is still alive and kicking despite a massive social media campaign from guilt-ridden hand-wringing drop kicks.

It’s time that both sides face up to the incredible manipulation that’s happening to both parties (by that I mean people, not political parties). Twitter isn’t designed to help you get in and get out with the best information as quickly as possibleit’s supposed to suck you into either a contentious world of argument and debate or an echo-chamber that reassures you everyone thinks like you do. Facebook is supposedly one of the largest news sources in the world, and days after the election, it disavowed that the news it shared could have possibly impacted users behavior in a significant way. With manipulative tactics that range from exploiting the so-called ‘attention gap’ to giving voice to propagandistic campaign surrogates to addictive UX features to editors warping coverage around their own ‘narrative,’ we’re all drowning in a sea of unreality.

Who could possibly handle the incredibly tough job of governing or leading on such tainted information? How can citizens be expected to participate more actively in politics—as familiar as they are with the endless amounts of negativity, scandal and disdain that participants are exposed to? How can citizens be expected to contribute more actively to democracy when they already believe they’re spending hours a day constructively participating in the exchange of ideas?

We’re ‘participating’ in this ecosystem because it’s addicting and because we’re curious. Leaders hunger to know what we want and think—and so we go around and around in a loop. But the result is that reality is a refraction of a refraction of a refraction. It has taken your real concerns and channeled them into impotent rage on one end and created shamelessness and indecency on the other. If we could break out of it, not only could we get some work done, but we might be able to productively connect with each other.

Sick of the Herald’s constant click-bait…it isn’t going to stop…until they go broke.

In George S. Trow’s classic critique of newspapers from 1950-1998, he made an interesting observation. “Notice,” he said, “that the news is written in such a way that all these ‘dramatic’ ravelings and unravelings are reported in detail (because they have human interest) but should the thing finally come together, the news will just stop. Just when you want to know what’s going to happen (the president has won the election; what’s he going to do?) the news stops.”

Except not now. Not anymore. This is a new media age. There are too many players, the mindshare of the country that it absorbed was too great, for things to simply go back to normal.

No, it must be dragged out. Prolonged.

Unless we intervene.

Don’t buy their papers, don’t read their websites, take back the news.

I marked the day after the election by doing the following: I deleted Twitter from my phone. I deleted Facebook from my phone. I deleted the Google News app from my phone. I figured out how to remove Apple News from Siri. I removed CNN from my nightly scan of the television channels.

I barely watch television, hardly use Twitter, occasionally use Facebook. They are all useless at imparting knowledge. When you see dopey tarts like Lizzie Marvelly or other barely educated fools with newspaper columns then you know it is lost.

I reject the idea that the pot is nearly at a boil and I must watch it closely until the exact moment that it happens. I say it’s time we remember the adage that a watched pot never boils. Our attention hasn’t made a difference—if anything, it created our situation. For that reason, I will not longer be following the news.

“If you wish to improve,” Epictetus once said, “be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters.” One of the most powerful things we can do as a human being in our hyperconnected, 24/7 media world is say: “I don’t know.” Or, more provocatively: “I don’t care.” Not about everything of course—just most things.Because most things don’t matter, and most news stories aren’t worth tracking.

It’s a trade off of deliberate ignorance for the ability to prioritize and see with clarity. It’s a swap of generalized outrage for what will hopefully be effective opposition to trends that actually matter (bad policy versus political correctness). Whatever one thinks of a potential Trump administration—that it’s the beginning of real positive change or that it’s the beginning of the end—I would argue that you would think about it all more objectively if you followed the breathless news cycle about it less.

The constant news cycle is draining. Trust me I know more than most.

There is plenty to do in this world, and plenty to be vigilant about. But let’s stop pretending that the ticker-tape of the news feed is anything other than what it is: addiction and manipulation masquerading as a social good. Then we wonder why we’re sapped of reason and willpower and perspective.

Good advice…let me do your reading for you. I’ll summarise the important and place it before you here.

 

– Observer

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