Rodrigo Hänggi

June 02, 2015

Why I don't read the news

As I walk through the train I once more notice the myriads of free newspapers lying around everywhere. I sit down and the young lady that joined me shortly afterwards, asks me if I finished reading the newspaper located on the seat next to me. I pick it up and hand it to her.

“Here take it, It’s not mine and I don’t intend to read it anyways.” “Already up to date on all the news huh?” she asks with a grin on her face. “Something like that I guess” I tell her as I turn my attention back to my book.

The truth is that I don’t read the news.

Well, to be completely honest with you: I TRY no to read the news. Because there are times where I have to force myself not to. And it’s not because I have the feeling that something important is happening in the world and I’m missing out. No, the reason is much simpler. When I do read a newspaper it’s because I’m simply bored. And I guess most of the people that I see commuting on the train have a reason quite similar to mine. Why be preoccupied with your own thoughts and worries if you can be reading about those of others. At least then they’re not yours anymore.

Not much seems to have changed since Thoreau built his little hut next to a pond somewhere in Massachusetts almost 200 years ago.

“And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter, - we need never read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I think Thoreau was right back then and he would still be right today. If you think about it, there’s not a single piece of information in the news that you haven’t heard about before. It’s always about another stabbing, robbery, celebrity that was caught using drugs or FIFA corruption scandal. And now thanks to the internet we’re able to drown ourselves in even more useless noise after we’ve exhausted our dead-tree paper.

And exactly therein lies my problem with todays news. It’s not about the quality or the depth of the information anymore. We’re a generation that can’t be bothered to read past 140 Characters. We trade in quality for quantity and in the end we seem to know so little even though we read so much. And this is why I decided to approach news differently.

It’s almost impossible to completely tune out the news. There will always be a friend or an acquaintance that will tell you about some apparently important event that happened somewhere else in the world. The art of information selection is trying to figure out which types of information are important to your personal goals and values and only focus on those. And by focusing I don’t mean reading every new information that comes in about the topic. Most things that get reported on in the news have a certain root cause which lies hidden deeper. What we read in the papers most of the time are just the effects of said cause.

A good example for this were the NSA revelations. Every day (and still today) you would hear about yet another program that got revealed or some experts opinion about it. Since I deemed it important to me I started digging deeper into the topic. Actively looking for information outside the daily news bubble. I stumbled upon the blog of Glenn Greenwald (the guy that got contacted by Snowden) and read about other stories which suggest that we somehow knew that surveillance on a mass scale must have been going on. Sadly, most of these stories were written off as crazy conspiracy theories. But the revelations finally confirmed those assumptions. I started reading a lot of books about hacking, cypherpunks and public surveillance. Actively building my own opinion and background knowledge. Yes, building your opinion takes a wee more effort than just picking one that has been prepared for you by others, but it’s also way more satisfying in the long run.

In a nutshell: I encourage you to acquire information about news & topics that are important to you by yourself, instead of just consuming the brain-dead meals that have been pre-packaged for you by the mass media.

It’s also a good way to loosen the grip of influence that the mass media has on you. Think you’re not being influenced? Think and then think again some more.