Should We All Read Less News?
Should we all read less news?
As I was scrolling through Twitter recently, I came across a post titled ‘The Case Against News’, written by the economist Bryan Caplan. In it, he makes the case for following the news being largely a waste of time that could be better spent on other things. According to Caplan,
“News, I like to say, is the lie that something important happens every day”.
A bold statement, for sure, and one many people reading this post are likely to disagree with. In his view, reading the news is among the least efficient ways of improving your understanding of the world. To illustrate his point, Caplan refers to a paper from Rolf Dobelli, entitled “Avoid News”. He takes his case against reading the news even further than Caplan does. Dobelli opens his paper with a challenge to the reader:
“News is irrelevant.
Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career, your business – compared to what you would have known if you hadn’t swallowed that morsel of news”.
It’s a fair question to ask. Many of us read hundreds, perhaps even thousands of news stories a year. How many of those stories can we recall, let alone acknowledge made a lasting impact on us one way or another? Like Dobelli, I’d wager relatively few news stories have a lasting impact on us.
While I will likely not eschew reading the news altogether, I have certainly become a more judicious consumer of it in recent times. Previously, I would consume news voraciously. I would spend hours a day keeping up with the latest current events, news, political stories and more. This was, at least in part, by necessity. Until recently, I was a much more prolific writer than I am now, as well as editor. In one of my previous roles, as a senior editor and writer for a political website, Conatus News, I needed to be fully up to speed on what was happening in the world.
While I enjoyed doing this, there were also significant downsides to doing so. Doing this daily is, of course, a significantly costly venture in terms of time. With the sheer amount of news unfolding each day, keeping up to date with it is a time-consuming affair.
Another downside was that after a while, I found myself tacitly going along with what was written in the news without much thought or questioning. Reading hours of news each day left little time to formulate my own thoughts and responses to issues in any compelling or unique way. The quality of my writing began to suffer, and there were times I’d simply not write at all. Over-consumption and analysis of media would lead to paralysis in terms of actual writing. I often felt overwhelmed and overloaded with the amount of news I was reading, becoming more stressed as a result. Only by drastically cutting down the amount of media I consume did I become aware of this and become a more conscious consumer of news as a result.
Initially, there was the inevitable worry that I wouldn’t be informed about what was happening in the world. Quickly, however, this thought changed to realising I was now merely paying more attention to topics that were interesting and relevant to me on some level.
Rolf Dobelli makes a similar point in his paper “Avoid News”. He states,
“After a while, you will realize that despite your personal news blackout, you have not missed – and you’re not going to miss – any important facts. If some bit of information is truly important to your profession, your company, your family or your community, you will hear it in time – from your friends, your mother-in-law or whomever you talk to or see”.
Observing all the outrage and arguments over the topical news item du jour on social media, I can’t help but think that people like Caplan and Dobelli have a valid point in the overemphasis and proliferation of news, much of which is ultimately trivial in the longer term. This is particularly true on Twitter, where the daily topic of attention or outrage is often trivial, if not misleading or outright false. Ignoring this ‘news’ can surely only be a good thing.