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Who remembers the days when the “News” was broadcast at 10pm every evening, and the Sunday papers leisurely read over the course of the week? A holiday used to mean getting away from it all. No work, no phone calls, and in pre-internet days, no emails, no twitter, and certainly no breaking news. Now we have a mobile phone in our pocket, data roaming tariffs, restaurants and hotels with wifi, and so even when we are abroad, we are never out of touch.
Dedicated news channels broadcast 24/7, with flashing BREAKING NEWS and rolling tickers keeping us informed every moment of the day. But are we really informed, or does it just *feel* like it? And what do we do, when our breaking news addiction begins to impact on our health and happiness?
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
I’ve always been a bit of a worrier, but in recent years, I’ve noticed that my anxiety levels were higher. The ‘What ifs’ plagued me. What if the ferry sinks? What if there is a terrorist attack? What if something happens to the kids?
While they didn’t stop me living my life, these illogical fears caused me anxiety and stress. My daughter is very like me, and before our recent holiday, she started asking about the ferry. Was the ferry a big boat or a little one? What would happen if it sank? Is a big boat less likely to sink than a little boat?
I asked for advice on the Jump! Mag Facebook Group, and one of the posters suggested downloading this app, which her kids found useful. When I had a look at the app, I found a few really helpful suggestions, such as:
A true sense of security comes from my ability to accept that the future cannot be known.
Most of my worries are exaggerated, or very unlikely to ever come true.
When my imagination starts to create worst-case scenarios, I will ask myself, “How likely is this really”, and “If it did happen, would it be the end of the world? What could I do to cope with it”
Images That Stick in the Mind
As an enthusiastic user of social media, particularly Twitter, I am used to the constant stream of breaking news. Before our holiday, I had a bedtime ritual – I’d make a cup of tea, which I drank in bed while having a last scroll though Twitter. Sometimes a news story would break, and I’d stay up late, waiting for new developments. Occasionally a late night story would simmer in my mind, stop me from sleeping, or give me nightmares.
With the rise of ‘citizen journalism’, it has become more common to see graphic and violent images, as witnesses shared their on-the-scene photos directly on Twitter. Previously, these images would have been vetted by the photo desk editors of newspapers, but there is no online filter, and it is left to the individual user to block and/or report graphic photos. I learned to switch off image previews, when the story broke of a bombing, assassination, or other violent crime, but sometimes I’d be caught unaware.
The Media and Click Bait
Hans Rosling is the founder of the Ignorance Project, which was founded “to fight devastating ignorance with a fact-based worldview that everyone can understand”.
“Most people understand the world by generalizing personal experiences which are very biased. In the media the “news-worthy” events exaggerate the unusual and put the focus on swift changes. Slow and steady changes in major trends don’t get much attention.”
Our perception of the world is shaped by the media, and they of course report on unusual events, and especially on frightening ones, for these are the ones that people read (along with heart-warming stories, and cats. Always the cats). The media market is such a competitive one, with traditional media companies vying with new media for clicks.
Even if you are unfamiliar with the term clickbait, you will recognise the headlines. They are designed to make the reader click on the story. Clickbait headlines work, even on people who recognise them for what they are, and they often emphasise the most dramatic stories of the day.
The combination of the media selecting dramatic and frightening stories, and them being shared with ever more frightening headlines and commentary means that we are getting a skewed view of our world.
The World Keeps Turning
When we were on holiday, I started reading a book rather than using Twitter, and found that I slept better. Then I started to cut back on Twitter during the day, and on reading news websites. During our trip, the Greek debt crisis reached a critical point. I was concerned for a friend in Greece, and regularly checked news sites to keep up to date with the developments. For a few days, we had almost no internet connection, and there came a moment of realisation – the Greeks had sorted out their crisis, and all without us knowing about it, discussing it, or arguing with people on Twitter about it!
It was strangely liberating. We spent weeks not knowing what was going on in the world, and the world managed fine without us. War, natural disaster, terrorist attacks, rape and murder – all stories that would have caused me to feel anxious and worried.
Life Without Breaking News
So, what are the changes that I’ve noticed since I stopped following the news so avidly.
- I sleep better. I don’t lie for an hour, tossing and turning, unable to sleep. Instead of taking my iPhone to bed, I take a book or my Kindle.
- I worry less about the more extreme or unusual events that happen in the world. I feel for those caught up in them, but I don’t worry that it could happen to me, or to my loved ones.
- I have less headaches. I used to waken up with clenched teeth, or catch myself grinding my teeth during the day. After we’d been on holiday a couple of weeks, I noticed I wasn’t grinding my teeth anymore.
- I don’t get into arguments on Twitter – this has been my policy for a while actually, but less news means less opportunity to argue! There is a certain futility in arguing with people who have a fixed mindset about an issue, and I have stopped expending my energy on these discussions.
- I don’t reach for my iPhone every spare minute, and that means that I just sit and look around me. It gives me time to think. Instead of an online calendar, I have a paper diary, where I can also take notes of things that occur to me.
- I am less distracted, and find it easier to sit down and write. I have so many plans, and never enough time in the day, so cutting back on distractions means I get a whole lot more done.
Recently, I took a taxi into town, and was chatting to the taxi driver on the way. I asked if there were any signs of Uber starting services in our town. He didn’t know who or what Uber was! It reminded me that outside my news-obsessed Twitter world, there were people who didn’t even know about hotly discussed issues.
While I can’t imagine ever leaving Twitter, or never reading news websites, I have cut back and now allow myself to read a couple of times a day. I don’t have a feeling of having to keep up with everything that is going on.
And the iPhone stays downstairs when I go to bed.