June 4, 2012
Minimalist Monday: News Diet
Scott and I were in Boston recently and stayed with our friends, Stephanie and Greg. One evening Scott and I were sitting at the dining room table with Stephanie – all three of us on our laptops. Greg walked by on the way to the kitchen and says, “Do you have any idea how ridiculous you all look plugged into your computers around that table?” I waved Greg off at first – I was working, but that isn't always the case.
I can remember times when I was visiting my best friend and we were sitting next to each other on our computers. Part of me is in justification mode: well, Jim & I can't be expected to stare at each other and interact and talk non-stop, AND I HAVE TO WORK! but another part of me is thinking: “I clearly need a better relationship with my laptop” and perhaps a workaholic post is in MM's future – but for now I'm focusing on news.
Back to that round table at Stephanie's... 10 minutes later she looked up from her laptop and said, “Did you hear about [event].” and I said “no I hadn't heard about that.” She told me about it briefly, then went back to reading. Another 10 minutes later “did you hear about [another event]?” and again I said “no, what's that about?” and she explained it to me. (I think you know where this is going!)
After about three or four rounds of this, Stephanie says to me “Don't you read the news?” I looked up and said “No. I don't watch or read the news.” Stephanie was shocked. “But how do you know what's going on?” she asked. “If it's important enough, people will be talking about it and I'll hear about it.” I went on a news diet several years ago. Scott and I read The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss when it first came out and one of the tasks/practices I adopted from the book was to stop reading or watching the news – or even paying attention to it. This was hard for me! I prided myself on reading the newspaper every morning on my commute to work (via subway – no reading while driving!) and being up to date on what was going on around the globe. I popped onto CNN (and PerezHilton if I'm being honest) several times a day. I had all sorts of alerts and RSS subscriptions.... Gone. All of them. Deleted.
I still subscribed to several blogs and a few websites that were not “news” related per se, and I kept my twitter account, too, but I unsubscribed to newsfeeds, like CNN's and HuffPo on twitter. Basically, I removed myself from the “news” (and celebrity gossip). Ferriss was right. I wasn't really missing anything. Anytime something big happened, I heard about it. In fact I recently tweeted “I get my news from Twitter.” because I do. If it's important, it's on twitter. Or Facebook. Or someone around me is talking about it. Ferriss also suggests asking others “what's new today?” if you're dying for news. I tried this out a few times, including asking people who were actually reading a newspaper, and every single time they said “not much” or they gave me a sports score. It was all the proof and convincing I needed to get off the news highway. Give it a try. Stop reading the news. Stop watching the news. Take CNN and the New York Times, etc. off your radar.
I was AMAZED at how much more time I had and how more I accomplished when I wasn't trying to keep tabs on always-changing-never-ending news. For example, in the first month, I read 3 books I'd been wanting to read forever but "never had time for" when I replaced the newspaper with books on my commute. I also found I was a lot happier, less cynical, less skeptical, less paranoid, when I stopped following the news. I'm a product of my environment and the news is rarely positive.
As part of my minimalist journey I'm trying to minimize negativity or dark clouds, and while I know the world is imperfect, and life is not fair, there is something to be said for not constantly reminding myself of it. I'm not blissfully unaware living in a rainbow bubble – I'd say being on a news diet has made me more conscious, but I'm not dwelling on the negative anymore (which was what reading the news effectively was for me). And I'm also not filling my head with information that I don't really need. I guess I've minimized incoming information, which I desperately needed. In this technological age, I often feel like I'm on information overload! I encourage everyone to try taking a news diet – just for a week, and see how you like it.