Article notes - Avoid News by Rolf Dobelli

Published on November 3rd, 2019

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Disclaimer: These are just snippets of article that I wanted to save and share.

All the credits to author. You can find link to original article in resources.

I am very aware that I highlighted like half of the article but there are so many great things in it, so I couldn’t resist.

Our brains are optimized for our original hunter-gatherer environment where we lived in small bands of 25 to 100 individuals with limited sources of food and information.

…news is to the mind what sugar is to the body.

Unlike reading books and long, deep magazine articles (which requires thinking), we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes, like bright-colored candies for the mind.

News misleads us systematically

News reports do not represent the real world.

Our brains are wired to pay attention to visible, large, scandalous, sensational, shocking, people- related, story-formatted, fast changing, loud, graphic onslaughts of stimuli. News organizations systematically exploit this bias.

News is irrelevant

Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career, your business – compared to what you would have known if you hadn’t swallowed that morsel of news.

…the consumption of news is irrelevant to the forces that really matter in your life.

People find it very difficult to recognize what’s relevant. It’s much easier to recognize what’s new.

What does relevance mean? It means: what is important to you personally. Relevance is a personal choice. Don’t take the media’s view for it.

Media organizations want you to believe that news offers individuals some sort of a competitive advantage.

Many people fall for that. We get anxious when we’re cut off from the flow of news. We fear we’re missing something important. In reality, news consumption is a competitive disadvantage.

…if something really important happens, you will hear about it, even if you live in a cocoon that protects you from the news.

News limits understanding

News has no explanatory power. News items are little bubbles popping on the surface of a deeper world.

What we really want is to understand the underlying processes, how things happen.

The important stories are non-stories: slow, powerful movements that develop below the journalists’ radar but have a transforming effect.

Most people believe that having more information helps them make better decisions. The relationship is actually inverted. The more “news factoids” you digest, the less of the big picture you will understand.

No evidence exists to indicate that information junkies are better decision makers.

Reading news to understand the world is worse than not reading anything.

News is toxic to your body

News constantly triggers the limbic system.

…your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress.

News consumers risk impairing their physical health.

News massively increases cognitive errors

News feeds the mother of all cognitive errors: confirmation bias. We automatically, systematically filter out evidence that contradicts our preconceptions in favor of evidence that confirms our beliefs.

What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.

News inhibits thinking

Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News items are like free-floating radicals that interfere with clear thinking.

News makes us shallow thinkers. But it’s worse than that. News severely affects memory.

There are two types of memory. Long-range memory’s capacity is nearly infinite, but working memory is limited to a minimum amount of slippery data (try repeating a 10-digit phone number after you hear it for the first time). The path from short-term to long-term memory is a choke-point in the brain, but anything you want to understand must past through it.

Because news disrupts concentration, it actively weakens comprehension.

Building up concentration takes a minimum of a 10-minute read. Given less time, your brain will process the information superficially and barely store it.

The online news has an even worse impact.

…comprehension declines as the number of hyperlinks in a document increase. Because whenever a link appears, your brain has to at least make the choice not to click, which in itself is distracting.

News consumers are suckers for irrelevancy, and online news consumers are the biggest suckers. News is an interruption system. It seizes your attention only to scramble it.

News changes the structure of your brain

News works like a drug. As stories develop, we naturally want to know how they continue.

Once you get into the habit of checking the news, you are driven to check it even more often. Your attention is set on fast-breaking events, so you hunger for more data about them.

Addicts seek more of an addictive substance to get their fix, because they need more stimulation than non-addicts to reach a satisfying reward threshold.

Nerve cells routinely break old connections and form new ones. When we adapt to a new cultural phenomenon, including the consumption of news, we end up with a different brain. Adaptation to news occurs at a biological level. News reprograms us.

The more news we consume, the more we exercise the neural circuits devoted to skimming and multitasking while ignoring those used for reading deeply and thinking with profound focus. Most news consumers – even if they used to be avid book readers – have lost the ability to read and absorb lengthy articles or books. After four, five pages they get tired, their concentration vanishes, they become restless.

It’s because the physical structure of their brains has changed.

We are training our brains to pay attention to the crap.

Deep reading is indistinguishable from deep thinking. When you consume news, your brain structurally changes. This means that the way you think changes. Regaining the capacity for concentration and contemplation will take nothing less than a radical news-free diet.

News is costly

News wastes time.

News taxes productivity three ways.

First, count the consumption-time that news demands. That’s the time you actually waste reading, listening to or watching the news.

Second, tally up the refocusing time – or switching cost. That’s the time you waste trying to get back to what you were doing before the news interrupted you.

Third, news distracts us even hours after we’ve digested today’s hot items. News stories and images may pop into your mind hours, sometimes days later, constantly interrupting your train of thought.

On a global level, the loss in potential productivity is huge. Take the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, where terrorists murdered some 200 people in an act of chilling exhibitionism.

India, alone, has more than a billion people. Many of them spent whole days following the drama. One billion people times one hour is one billion hours, which is more than 100,000 years. The global average life expectancy is today 66 years. So nearly 2,000 lives were swallowed by news consumption. It’s far more than the number of people murdered.

Information is no longer a scarce commodity. But attention is. Why give it away so easily? You are not that irresponsible with your money, your reputation or your health. Why give away your mind?

News sunders the relationship between reputation and achievement

Reputation affects how people cooperate in society.

With the advent of mass-produced news, the strange concept of “fame” entered our society.

Fame is misleading because generally people become famous for reasons that have little relevance to our lives.

News is produced by journalists

Good professional journalists take time with their stories, authenticate their facts and try to think things through. But like any profession, journalism has some incompetent, unfair practitioners who don’t have the time – or the capacity – for deep analysis.

Reported facts are sometimes wrong, forecasts always

Many news stories include predictions, but accurately predicting anything in a complex world is impossible.

Incorrect forecast are not only useless, they are harmful.

News is manipulative

Our evolutionary past has equipped us with a good bullshit detector for face-to-face interactions.

Today, even conscientious readers find that distinguishing even-handed news stories from ones that have a private agenda is difficult and energy consuming.

Stories are selected or slanted to please advertisers (advertising bias) or the owners of the media (corporate bias), and each media outlet has a tendency to report what everyone else is reporting, and to avoid stories that will offend anyone (mainstream bias).

News makes us passive

News stories are overwhelmingly about things you cannot influence. This sets readers up to have a fatalistic outlook on the world.

Our evolutionary past prepared us to act on information, but the daily repetition of news about things we can’t act upon makes us passive. It saps our energy. It grinds us down until we adopt a worldview that is pessimistic, desensitized, sarcastic and fatalistic.

It’s a bit of a stretch, but I would not be surprised if news consumption at least partially contributes to the widespread disease of depression. Viewed on a timeline, the spread of depression coincides almost perfectly with the growth and maturity of the mass media.

News gives us the illusion of caring

News wraps us in a warm global feeling. We are all world citizens. We are all connected.

…that delivers the illusion of caring but doesn’t get us anywhere.

The fact is, consuming news does not make us more connected to each other.

News kills creativity

Things we already know limit our creativity. This is one reason that mathematicians, novelists, composers and entrepreneurs often produce their most creative works at a young age.

I don’t know a single truly creative mind who is a news junkie…

On the other hand, I know a whole bunch of viciously uncreative minds who consume news like drugs.

The creativity-killing effect of news might also be due to… distraction.

If you want to come up with old solutions, read news. If you are looking for new solutions, don’t read news.

What to do instead

Go without news. Cut it out completely. Go cold turkey.

Make news as inaccessible as possible.

If you want to keep the illusion of “not missing anything important”, I suggest you glance through the summary page… once a week. Don’t spend more than five minutes on it.

Read magazines and books which explain the world…

Try reading a book a week. That way you’ll learn to understand the underlying mechanisms of the world. Go deep instead of broad. Enjoy material that truly interests you. Have fun reading.

The first week will be the hardest. Deciding not to check the news while you are thinking, writing or reading takes discipline. You are fighting your brain’s built-in tendency. Initially, you will feel out of touch or even socially isolated.

Go 30 days without news. After 30 days, you will have a more relaxed attitude toward the news. You will find that you have more time, more concentration and a better understanding of the world.

After a while, you will realize that despite your personal news blackout, you have not missed – and you’re not going to miss – any important facts.

When you are with your friends, ask them if anything important is happening in the world. The question is a great conversation starter. Most of the time, the answer will be: “not really.”

Never be shy about discussing your news diet. People will be fascinated.

Good News

Society needs journalism – but in a different way.

Investigative journalism is relevant in any society. We need more hard-core journalists digging into meaningful stories.