have i not got news for you

Maybe it was the SARS reboot that did it. Or Harley Quinn fans going to war with Sonic the Hedgehog fans. Or Election 2020 fever over the seeming inevitability of a Bernie Sanders candidacy and the apparent extreme socialism he will bring in (in the UK he’d be a fairly mainstream social democrat), or the vast number of hot takes on any event that come in from Twitter.

I’ve been trying to wean myself off of the news for a while now, and this Monday I decided to really go for it. No more checking the Guardian or Independent on my phone idly on the bus to see what the latest developments are, no more flicking over to BBC News at the drop of a hat… I’m done with it. This is of course, the choice of a rising number of people so I guess I’m not being iconoclastic, but just joining another crowd.

Being in my mid-30s, and having been around the block once now, I find myself in a privileged position having lived through one era of Republican dominance (Dubya, now rehabilitated, was basically Trump of the 2000s) and several virus scares (SARS 1, Bird flu, Swine flu) I can safely say that really nothing is new under the sun. Well, the themes aren’t but perhaps the speed at which they do has increased.

What I do find new is the descent of a lot of news sites into emotionally manipulative garbage where once they offered relatively accurate takes on things. Now you can choose to live in a world where we have a Nazi in the Oval Office who will kill us all, or another where evil socialists are going to force us all to undergo gender reassignment surgery and convert to Islam. The papers also are competing with hot takes on Twitter, which isn’t known for rationality and moderation and so to compete the papers up their emotionality and sensationalism and trying to stay informed results in getting overwhelmed by breathless hot takes on stuff we really don’t understand yet.

It’s tiring. And most of it is actually irrelevant to you as well. For a society that apparently thrives on information, most of it is badly thought out and really stuff that if you miss out on wouldn’t really detract from your life. That 15 minutes spent scrolling the live updates of the Coronavirus crisis or Brexit or the US presidential primaries could probably be spent much better on a variety of other things.

Am I advocating for ignorance? No. To completely shut yourself off from the world and become ignorant of what’s going on is equally as stupid. I’ve read about people who completely shut themselves off from world events and ended up equally as dumb as the people they looked down on for “blindly following the news”.

So what am I going to try and do about this? Well, I’m going to try and slow down the pace at which I consume the news. No more panicked checking of news sites, but rather a leisurely read of weekly news magazines. I’ve been in love with the idea for a while now, just being able to sit in a cafe and consider the world’s events with the distance of a tiny bit of history. There are a variety of news magazines such as the New Statesman, The Spectator and The Economist, and recently I’ve taken to reading these more and more. I’ve begun to find the experience quite pleasurable. The latter two are left/right leaning, but yet eminently more reasonable than the likes of The Guardian and Telegraph.

Personally I like The Economist – it’s a pretty moderate, informed paper and also seems to line up with a more data-driven approach to make what points it has to make. It may one day go downhill, but so far mostly its arguments tend to be based on reason rather than telling you why if you don’t believe it you’re a horrible person or a bleeding heart snowflake. That’s just my personal preference. Any of the weekly newspapers above is fine depending on your personal politics.

So now I’m going to try my best just to… relax. The world has always been going to hell in a handcart, and it’s time to largely accept that’s the way it is. Nothing new under the Sun as Ecclesiates wrote. Sometimes something especially stupid might get my attention and I’ll tweet about it (today’s thing: Iain Duncan Smith demanding “experts” for Brexit… sigh), but I’m hoping that by slowing down my news consumption I can get a bit of peace back.

No more frantic refreshing, no more googling of world events, just a relaxing Friday evening/Saturday morning reading my favourite news magazine, sitting in a cafe somewhere in Edinburgh watching the world go by. It sounds nice.

That’s the dream, anyway.

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