Opt Out: Why I quit the news

It’s been a heck of a season, dear readers. Amidst all the angst and consumption of running my own actual life, it hasn’t been lost on me that out nation has been living quite a life, as well. To be honest, my own life has suffered in small ways because of our nation’s life. And not in an honorable sacrificing-to-serve way, either. In a neurotic, constantly-looking-at-a-stream-of-garbage way. Put bluntly, I became a bit obsessed. Until something changed. But we’ll get to that later.

This story begins back in the train-wreck-of-an-election that was 2016. As a certain Republican candidate gained momentum, I watched in horrified fascination. The news, back in those days, went from laughable to unbelievable to oh-so-believable with the pace of a souped-up driverless riding lawn mower. Pretty soon, the lawn mower was rounding third base, careening toward a certain end on election day. I began checking Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight blog as a daily ritual. Then I began listening to a podcast by the same.

Miraculously, that runaway lawn mower came in for a landing, albeit a rocky one, on the U.S.S. America. I was even more fascinated to see what would happen next.

zoon I was flipping back and forth between Slate’s political podcast, Five Thirty Eight, and Google News. My phone was constantly in my hand, and I was getting notifications from news items posted on Twitter, from The Washington Post, and from the Wall Street Journal.

At some point (around the election), I re-discovered late night TV shows and their nightly monologues. I began watching them on YouTube every night. Stephen Colbert became a favorite, as did Seth Meyers. When these gentlemen would take an evening off, it threw off my consumption habits. I had to find other things to watch on YouTube, though I didn’t really want to.

Google News became my crack. I’d check it multiple times per day, keeping up with most stories as they developed on an hour-by-hour basis. Writing this now, I can see how terrible the addiction was. But at that point, I just thought I was keeping up with my civic duty.

My incredulity with the developments in politics kept reaching new heights. I was fascinated, horrified, entertained. I couldn’t look away.

Then one day, I had an insight. I wondered if the President would have as much power if the news media would stop paying attention to him. My next guilty thought was that the media was paying attention because I was paying attention. They were following clicks and impressions, and I was clicking and reading enough to feed the beast.

So I decided to opt out. I stepped off the cycle to see what would happen.

And what I found was emptiness. I began to see how consumed my mind had been by all this stressful national news, and how reflexively I had been consuming it. I deleted Google News from my phone, unsubscribed from the political podcasts, and stopped looking at late-night comedian/commentators on YouTube.

I had to do something to fill the time and void, so I’ve decided to consume longer-form content. I began listening to Radical: My Journey Out of Islamist Extremism by Maajid Nawaz. I picked up Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki to read on my Kindle/phone.

I haven’t completely escaped the news. I see it different place in passing, but I’m not paying attention any more. You can call it Trump Fatigue, but I just call it taking back my attention. I’ve gotten more work done, had a clearer mind, and stopped worrying about things beyond my ken. This probably won’t last forever, but it’s good for now.

What about you? Do you need to think about opting out?

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