Mark Twain (is alleged to have) quipped, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.”
Borepatch, upon consideration of our current condition, amended that to, “If you don’t follow the media, you are uninformed. If you do follow the media you are both uninformed and misinformed.”
Got a point there, Brother Borepatch.
On the other hand, there’s also this possibility: If you don’t follow the media, you might be far better informed.
I gave up TV on December 27, 1994 and never looked back. I’ve been unable to do the same for the Internet. Even after banishing Comcast from my home, I’ve never broken my news-junkie habit and can still find ways to click myself down infotainment rabbit holes.
In part, this is a side-effect of the fact that I need to be online to do my work — and don’t most of us, these days? Work or keeping in touch with family or organizing community events or taking a class or researching. There’s always something that keeps most of us online. And once we’re here they’ve got us — “they” being the Usual Suspects of Big Tech and the “news” media.
What a powerful indicator of just how addictive this business is. Even when you know the “news” is a slough of toxic bull byproducts, you still want to dive into the latest leavings. (At least I do, and I know I’m not alone.)
What may finally break the addiction is how completely useless “news” has become recently, as covered in part I and as we all see more clearly every day. “News” may still be compelling, as Charles Dana Gibson noticed a century ago (note that the headline drawing all eyes is all about murder and mayhem; some things never change). But informative? Not so much.
So what to do to stay informed in this era of media madness? Let me count some ways.
1. Being informed doesn’t necessarily imply being up on current events. How about being informed on philosophy, community activities, the history of art, world records, historic sports scores, the education of your children, great books, emergency medicine, the world’s most peaceful vacation spots, sewing techniques, home workshop gun-making (traditional or 3D printed), the latest developments in psychedelic therapy, saving heirloom seeds, or astrophysics (to name just a few)? Current events are fleeting and virtually every word of “news” about them is either dead wrong or from a severely canted viewpoint. How lovely to be informed on something you can use for a lifetime and share (not just grouse about) with others.
2. We are in-formed by our choices. Most modern dictionaries don’t even mention it, but there used to be a different common definition of the word “informed.” You’ll still hear it once in a while from elegantly literate people. Informed means “formed by” — as in what we do or experience or eat or believe or consume through our eyes and ears forms who we are. Information itself isn’t necessarily informative. While having a head full of trivia is good for writers and Jeopardy contestants (of which, you’ll notice, there’s a considerable overlap), having too much URGENT! crap pouring daily into our brains keeps us from seriously learning, absorbing, thinking, and synthesizing. Next time I’m tempted to click, I’m going to ask, “Do I want my life and values formed by this?
3. Rest. Sleep. Rest, relaxation, and good sleep aren’t just pleasant and necessary for our health. They keep our brains well-tuned. How many times have you been banging your head on a problem, walked away, “slept on it,” and awakened with an answer, or at least a new approach to solving it? Let’s use some of our mindless clicking time to catch a nap or go for the full eight hours and see how clearer life looks afterward.
4. By the same token, have a life. Ever had that same lovely clarity and peace from, say, taking a walk, sitting in the sun with friends, caring for animals, planting a garden, building a shed, getting engrossed in a hobby, painting a picture, reading a book, doing a favor for someone who appreciates it, taking a swim, or otherwise doing something in the real world? Yeah. How ’bout we do more of that?
5. If we gotta be online, let’s make it count. Let’s set our own priorities for what we want to know and do — that is, what we genuinely want to be informed about and what we want to be formed by. Great schools offer free courses online. Museums give virtual tours. We can learn computer security from experts. Study poetry or examine classical artworks in extreme high-resolution. Learn to speak Irish Gaelic, Spanish, or Chaucer’s English. Find out about the latest discoveries in volcanology, archeology, or paleontology. I don’t recall who originated it or what the exact quote is, but somebody once remarked that we now have a tiny device that lets us access the entirety of the world’s knowledge — and we use it to watch cat videos and argue with strangers. … And let’s add to click on spurious “news.” (Oh, by the way, when I tried to find the quote and its source, two of the first three links that came up on DuckDuckGo were on “how to argue with cats.” Yes, the Internet is a strange, strange place. For once I resisted going down a rabbit hole.)
6. Create your own newsfeed. Using Feedly or something like it, curate yourself a small collection of “news” sources and blogs that don’t drive you crazy. Be sure to include a significant number of humor sites or cheerful, inspiring ones. Then make this your only source of online news. (I know a lot of you already have daily feeds, but the trick is to follow only those links and not go clicking at random into places that either waste your time or raise your blood pressure. And yes, that is a trick. Otherwise, a personal feed just adds to the brain clutter.)
7. Set up “adult filters” on our computers and phones. If disciplining ourselves not to click, not to get sucked in to online garbage “news” is too hard (and I confess for me it often is, especially when I’m tired), then how about creating “adult filters” for our online use? That could mean setting our computers to block virtually all news and opinion content. It could mean setting up a strict schedule for our online time (say, no more than two hours a day, or no Internet on weekends, whatever works). If all else fails, unplug and lock the tempting device away during whatever hours you choose to put off limits.
That seems like a pretty good beginning.
Got additional ideas, or better ones? Jump into the comment section and post away …