- I’m a news junkie who decided to pay no attention to current events for a week.
- The logistics of unplugging from the news cycle are more complex than you might think.
- I thought it would feel like a vacation, but it turned out to be much more difficult to complete my assignment than I anticipated.
- In the short-term, this experiment may prove useful in reducing stress. But long-term, it can be dangerous to remain ignorant to what’s going on in the world.
As a journalist, I’m a bit of a news junkie. While I don’t cover news on a daily basis, I’ve always prided myself on keeping myself informed, and I’ve thought of my obsession as a healthy, responsible habit.
But after the 2016 presidential election, it started to feel like more of a chore to keep up with everything that was going on in the world. The news cycle began to weigh heavier on my mind, and that feeling only compounded over time.
So I decided to give myself a temporary break from the news to see how it would affect me. It seemed like a simple task, but to accomplish this, I almost had to unplug from the internet completely. Here’s how I avoided the news:
- I stopped logging into my Feedly account, which I use to keep up with about 40 different sources of news. During this time, it racked up thousands of articles.
- I disabled all push notifications on my phone to avoid accidental exposure.
- Many of my non-urgent emails, like newsletters and Google alerts, went unread.
- I still used social media, but only as much as was necessary to do my job and share my work.
The results of this experiment were mixed, but mostly negative:
1. When I took the news out of my digital diet, what I was left with seemed hollow: retail, guilty pleasures, and entertainment
None of those are bad in themselves – they’re just not something I deem as important as staying informed on current events.
2. When you operate outside of the news cycle, you can get a clearer picture of everything else that’s going on — if you seek it out
I finally had time to read up on the work that organisations like theMarshall Projectand theBill & Melinda Gates Foundationare doing. This was, by far, the best side-effect of going news-free for a week.
3. I experienced significantly lower stress levels from day to day
The weight of the news cycle disappeared on day one, and I was determined to enjoy that throughout my week.
Even so, I wouldn’t consider that to be worth the cost of being uninformed in the long run – especially in a time when it seems so important to be knowledgeable about what’s going on the world.
4. I quickly replaced my news-related anxieties with other worries
In a way, ignorance was bliss, but only to a point. I was aware of my own ignorance, so I still had the stress that comes from existing in a world that feels more full of danger than of opportunities for fundamental change.
Only now I had no way of soothing myself with knowledge and lending my voice to causes I care about. Instead of bliss, I felt that I was allowing important decisions, ones that would impact me on both a tangential and a personal level, to be made without my input.
5. Despite my best efforts, I still heard the CliffsNotes version of several of the biggest news stories of the week from my friends and family
That’s how I realised the most important takeaway from this experiment: When you rely on others for your news, you end up trapping yourself in a social echochamber. You only know what everyone you know considers to be important, so you miss out on everything else.
As I became more removed from what was going on in the world, it became more difficult for me to engage in the important discussions going on in my social sphere.
Overall, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with disconnecting for a brief respite from the news. For someone like me, who is deeply entrenched in that world, it may even be necessary. But this behaviour isn’t a long-term solution to the quickened pace and increased volume of stress-inducing news stories that surface almost every day. It’s a coping mechanism – one that could backfire if you rely too heavily upon it.
It may feel good to tune out and pretend that your life won’t be impacted by current events. But in reality, staying informed about national discussions and engaging in them is the only way to ensure that your voice is heard.
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