I’ve stopped reading the news – in particular, I’ve stopped reading bad news. Or, at least I’ve tried to; news, it turns out, is everywhere! I’ve replaced my car radio time with audio books, my lunchbreak reading with a few favourite blogs. We don’t watch TV or buy papers at home, and I’ve deleted the apps from my phone.
And yet… It’s like news is the sea and we’re all just fish swimming around, mostly not even knowing that we’re wet.
Despite actively avoiding news, this morning I have encountered it:
As the radio started up when I turned my car on.
On twitter posts.
On Instagram posts.
On the front pages at the newsagent when I bought a snack.
Playing on the radio as I paid for my snack.
On the homepage of my internet browser at work.
See what I mean? It’s only 10:30am!
It’s not all accidental, either. Last night when Orla’s persistent coughing and squirming woke me at 4am, I opened a news site on my phone. I knew it was breaking my promise to myself, I knew I was going to write this post today, but even so, I looked; I was tired and grumpy and I didn’t have the attention span for anything else. So I looked, and I saw photographs of men about to be beheaded, a fatal car accident, stupid comments by stupid, soulless people, and then I couldn’t sleep for entirely different reasons.
I’ve noticed this is a pattern; I’m more likely to reach for news when I am tired, stressed, hungry, anxious, upset. I think it’s mainly because of the format – short, punchy stories, lots of choice in one place – but the effect is that I most often read about bad things when I am already feeling bad.
All my other vices in moments of emotional difficulty – chocolate, wine, online Zara splurges – are all pleasurable diversions. Is it possible I find the safe emotional rollercoaster of the headlines somehow pleasurable too?
I’ve started to write this post a few times now and this is always the point where I falter; when it comes to sharing my reasons for this cutting out of news. I’m conscious of sounding like a crazy woman on the internet here, so I’ve decided not to say too much. I wont talk about how I think we are not built to repeatedly witness such violent imagery, and especially not from the comfort and security of our car or supermarket or bed. I wont explain why I worry that we wind up treating people’s life-altering tragedy like a soap opera, dipping in & out for a brief diversion from our boring, easy lives.
I will say, I no longer believe news deserves its moral highground and status of ‘socially significant’ in an age of clickbait and celebrity and online advertising. The wall-to-wall Charlie Hebdo coverage and simultaneous blanket silence around the concurrent massacre in Nigeria is the perfect example; the news agencies have their own agenda, and it has far more to do with entertaining than informing.
I climbed out of the news-ocean for a while, and then I fell back in. That water is wet, and it is cold and shocking and the currents push you in directions you never intended to go. I’m not a strong swimmer, so I’m going to try and stay on dry land from now on, and you’re welcome to join me.
ETA: Since posting this, there’s been some really insightful debate & discussion over on http://instagram.com/p/y_eyUyJ6XO/. Lots of food for thought – worth a read, if this topic interests you!