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Friday, September 28, 2007

Change the channel

I would like to report back on the successful outcome of an experiment that I began 7 weeks ago, prompted by my departure from a broadband/TV equipped place of rest.

The experiment has basically involved avoiding all news of the national / international variety. No glancing at newspapers in shops, no more daily emails from news sites, no subscribing to RSS news feeds, and especially no television or radio news.

Initially it was a bit tough - I felt I was missing out, and what if something really important happened?!

How do I feel now?

Firstly, far less angry, frustrated or upset about events elsewhere. After all, what is the point in leaving myself open to a constant stream of negativity? Does it help me? Does it help others? No, not in the slightest. It merely spreads the negativity, the depression, the anger, it increases the overall amount of negative energy in the air and does no one any favours.

But what about when something really bad happens and people need your help, like after the Asian Tsunami of 24th Dec.

Well, it turns out that when something important like that does happen (such as the current events in Burma) someone will tell you about it.

But what about education? Won't one end up being an ignoramus?

Only if one thinks that the only way to educate oneself is to consume media hype.

In summary, this experiment has been a great success for me personally, and I would invite others to try a media switch-off, and maybe subscribe to some positive news. It'll do wonders for your mood if you're the kind easily frustrated by bad news, and perhaps even for those of you who think you deal with it without a problem too - subconsciously all that negativity can't be doing you any good.

:-)

[edit]

Do feel free to take part in the raging debate in the comments section

9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joseph, Joseph, Joseph...

I was with you on your quest to becoming happy-clappy 24/7 until this post. Cutting yourself off from the news completely to avoid negativity/the "media hype"? Really? Unless you're watching Fox News I think that's a fairly paranoid view of British news coverage (which, on the whole, I think is relatively balanced).

It seems you have decided to take this quest of yours down a rather skewed path. Fine, you want to avoid negativity, no problems with that...but, it is impossible to live in a world of gum drops and rainbows, however hard you try. You just end up living in a alternative reality from everyone else.

As someone has said before, it should not be about denying negativity but seeing EVERYTHING and then CHOOSING what you want to focus on. This is the healthy way to approach this quest, I feel. To paraphrase again, dwelling on the negative rarely does any good but neither does ignoring it. Ignoring or denying negativity, inversely, just gives it more power.

Just a thought.

29/9/07 12:21  
Blogger Joseph said...

Anonymous,

I appreciate that not all news is bad news, but on balance, there tends to be a lot more focus on things going wrong than going right.

My no-news policy did not come about as the result of a conscious decision - it began as a result of circumstance which dictated that (when on the road) I did not have easy access to the media.

It was when I returned to the UK that I started to reflect on how this made me feel. Picking up a copy of The Week (a good digest of the week's news, not known for its sensationalism), I found myself feeling somewhat frustrated, stressed and a little depressed by what I heard.

This influenced my behavior, which in turn influenced the feelings of those around me. They may not have consciously realised it (and perhaps the only reason I did was because this sudden return to the news after a long break made me pause for thought), but none the less, negativity increased.

You state that it should be a case of "seeing EVERYTHING and then CHOOSING what you want to focus on" - but I would argue that by reading the news you have already made the decision to focus upon it.

I think it is rather odd to associate 'not following major events around the world' with 'denial of reality'. Where is it written that we must all know everything about the world in order to not end up in an alternative reality?!

What did people do before the internet, before newspapers? What do people do in places where there is no access to the media? Are you saying that people who live in such places are denying negativity? Living in some dreamland? Are they in an alternative reality?

No, circumstance is helping them to choose to focus upon the here and now, to focus upon the issues that matter to them on a daily basis. They are not wasting their energies on far-flung disasters over which they have no control, they are not despairing at the fate of mankind, but instead are channeling their energies into improving their own lives and that of their communities.

You state that "Ignoring or denying negativity ...just gives it more power" - are these people who are not aware of the latest Baghdad car bomb really giving negativity more power? How can one be actively ignoring or denying negativity if one isn't even aware of its existence?!

Say for example that Mrs Smith of Clacton-Upon-Sea has just suffered a brutal attack on the high street. Now I have chosen to not have the Clacton-Upon-Sea Gazette sent to me on subscription so I never hear of the incident - am I giving negativity more power?

Also, I was wondering, what is this reality that you imply 'everyone else' lives in? Do tell me where it is, I'd love to pay it a visit. I am of the opinion that reality is different for everyone, it all being a matter of perception.

I have a friend who is now in their 50s and who has seldom followed the news. You won't find any newspapers in their house, the TV is rarely on - the same goes for the radio. They don't have internet access either.

When I meet this friend, do I find them in some disturbing alternative reality, some ariy-fairy land of perfection? No, I simply find them to be a source of great light and joy, someone who cares about their local community and does a lot of good for others.

I would add that my approach does not promote apathy. I remain subscribed to (inter)national organisations that are all about taking positive action where it is needed - Oxfam and Friends of the Earth being two of them. I seem to recall being told once that I couldn't sort out all of the world's problems, and that the thing to do was to focus one's energies upon one or specific areas (such as environment / poverty). (Now I wonder who that was...!)

These days, it seems that there is an idea that those who choose to not read the news are somehow acting irresponsibly and selfishly. I would argue that by devoting their energy to aspects of life that they can positively influence, they are doing the world a great favour.

Joseph

p.s. I just thought of something rather funny: yesterday, without thinking about my recent decision to not follow the news, I applied for a job as a photographer ...of the student newspaper, possibly the most sensationalist pile of trash you've ever come across! Let's just hope I can sneak my photos of rainbows and jelly babies onto the front page.

29/9/07 18:27  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, so many points, so little time. Firstly, taking the head-in-the-sand approach to world events/current affairs is pretty short-sighted…“If I can see it, it isn’t there”…that is the reasoning of a five year old. To not know what is happening in the world around you; to not be aware or fully understand the major political and social event of your own lifetime is just ignorant. That is not a nice word, but there is no other word for it.

Knowing what’s going on in the world makes you more informed, educated and generally (for want of a better word) interesting. If you understand a situation, you see the problem. You see the problem, you can find a solution. Simply, if you want to change the world for the better (which you seem to do) you really need to understand it. As you captured rather eloquently in one of your earlier posts, we share one world, which we are all a part of. Ignoring what is going on around us because we perceive it to be “negative” would suggest either you are just incredibly compassionate with a huge capacity for empathy; carrying the woes of the world on your shoulders or you are just somewhat finely balanced, emotionally. Using examples such as “Ms Smith” in the “Clapham Gazette” or whatever it was, as justification for turning your back on the whole of the mass media is, frankly, ridiculous…you kind of shoot your own argument in the foot there. Oh yeah and before the internet, before newspapers (which was an awful long time ago) people gossiped, you heard the news of others, people weren’t isolated from the things that happened around them.

Secondly, reading the news doesn’t mean I take it all to heart. I read it, inform myself and move on. It’s not like all news is bad news, a lot of the time it is simply interesting, informative and even (heaven-forbid) uplifting.

So, lets look at other people in the world who aren’t exposed to damaging influence of the balanced, international, liberal media on a regular basis. Places like, ooh…I don’t know…North Korea or China. The lucky folks over there don’t have to read about car bombs and shootings and all that nasty stuff. Just page after page about how wonderful the country is, how great the economy is doing, how their leaders can turn water into wine. A land of gum drops and rainbows…great, huh? That’s right Joseph, you are living in your own Communist/Authoritarian state. Of course, I am exaggerating a little but the point still stands…are the people any happier or more satisfied with life being only exposed to news about how wonderful everything is? No, of course not.

OK, so, people who don’t watch the news aren’t “wasting their energies on far-flung disasters over which they have no control” …like, oooh, I don’t know supporting the victims of the Boxing Day Tsunami. They are ”channelling their energies into improving their own lives and that of their communities”…instead of communities on the other side of the plant like the earthquake victims of Pakistan and Kashmir. Well, that does sound wonderful. Basically, you seem to be suggesting there is a choice – don’t watch the news and look after those around you OR watch the news and, presumably, become overwhelmed by the sheer negativity of it all and do naff-all. Clearly I don’t need to point out to you how flawed your train of thought is here. Well done for you continued support of charities and whatnot (and glad to hear you’ve taken my advice on board about picking your battles) but this latest development in the continual programme of self-improvement is just churlish, misguided and rather futile.

Your friend who doesn’t watch the news – I am sure they are a wonderful person who does a lot of good for others (I did not suggest otherwise) but I imagine that is more to do with the kind of person they are rather than their lack of awareness of world/national events. I fear you’ve done a bit of 2+2=5 logic there. I know many kind and generous people who DO read the newspapers, DO watch the news on TV, so it’s a moot point really. Unless of course, you are suggesting those who follow the news are, by proxy, worse people?

OK finally, so in general I kind of get what you’re saying overall…I don’t agree with most of it, but that’s by the by…this last paragraph, however, is just horrendously self-important;
”These days, it seems that there is an idea that those who choose to not read the news are somehow acting irresponsibly and selfishly. I would argue that by devoting their energy to aspects of life that they can positively influence, they are doing the world a great favour”
Riiiiight…so, people who don’t read the news (i.e. you) are doing the world a great favour…and, presumably, I and the other 85% of the population, are not? See Joseph…it’s when you adopt this holier-than-thou/general air of superiority that I have to object. I remember a few months ago you post something in a similar tone…I see pomposity and I have to prick it I’m afraid…this last bit was just verbose self-aggrandising nonsense.

29/9/07 21:47  
Blogger Joseph said...

"Ah, so many points, so little time."

I think our disagreement could stem from the fact that you are I are different. You are able to "read [the news], inform [your]self and move on."

I cannot do that. I find myself getting personally involved with things that do not necessarily affect me in the slightest. For example, when I listen to a radio interview and it is clear that the interviewer is running out of time and struggling to get their last question in - I get very stressed on their behalf, and have to change the channel or leave the room.

Thus, the news has a far greater impact upon me who is yet to learn to deal with such situations, than someone like you who is able to not become emotionally involved.

Perhaps it was wrong of me to suggest that others try my experiment. All I know is that it is working for me.

Does this leave me carrying on with my life in splendid isolation ignoring the hardships of those in Pakistan or Burma? No. What with email and social networking sights I soon find out about important issues - and act.

I agree that a knowledgeable person does tend to be more interesting than one who is not. It's just that
my personal belief is that consumption of mainstream news is not necessarily the healthiest way to become knowledgeable (whilst it may be the easiest). I still don't think we should feel obliged to know about everything - we don't HAVE to have an intricate knowledge of events to feel compassion for others. Just a general awareness of the issues should be enough to allow one to extend support, and general knowledge will filter through if one is living in a place like Sheffield. If one is particularly touched by a certain issue, sure, carry out more research, learn about the details, go there, do something more than making a donation or writing a letter.

Re. communist states: I'm not suggesting people's freedom to choose whether or not they access the news is removed. I don't work for Google.

When I referred to people watching the news and "wasting their energies on far-flung disasters over which they have no control” - I had in mind a kind of couch potato who watches the TV for the sake of watching TV, hears the news and then says 'oh what a terrible world we live in' - and then does nothing to make it better. If it prompts them into acting (such as making a donation) then that's great - but I would suggest that on the whole that is not the case. There's so much bad news our tolerance levels have become ridiculously high.

Of course I am not insinuating that I am doing the world a great favour …and you and the other 85% of the population, are not.

As I wrote that it did not even occur to me that I might be included that section of society that does not read newspapers: they were a section of society located in my mind's eye, just above the photo of *Twinkle* on the noticeboard in front of me. Reading it now it does sound quite funny to hear myself congratulating myself for my doing the world a great favour! Hurrah for Joseph!!

Seriously though, I make no claims to be superior to anyone else in any way, that goes against my fundamental beliefs re. our very nature and shared source. I don't think I could write genuinely "verbose self-aggrandising nonsense" and not be sick with bad feeling all over my keyboard. I don't want to be better than anyone else - the end of Mother Theresa's Final Analysis' come to mind:

"In the final analysis,
it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

(God being for me, in 3 words, a shared energy source).

But, it's all a matter of what you believe really - believe me to be a pompous egotistical twat spouting off idealistic crap and that's what I'll be for you.

Or, believe me to be someone who is exploring different ways of doing good (I hesitate to write that for fear of being labeled as a self-proclaimed Saint!) and I'll be that.

Tell you what though, this no-news thing - it's great. I dare you to try it, until Christmas, see how it feels...

tee hee.

(thanks as always for your time).

29/9/07 22:52  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haha...it is funny you should say that.

Through no choice of my own, I am currently cut off from the mainstream press and will be for the forseeable feature. I can't say I'm feeling much more positive yet...just a little out-of-touch/stupid...I think that I'm getting actually withdrawal symptoms...

Anyway, will let you know the full results in a few months time...haha

30/9/07 01:06  
Blogger Joseph said...

Ha! Well, who'da thought it.

If in a month or so you find yourself feeling too happy for lack of news do let me know and I'll send you a DVD of the 9 O'clock news - I'd be willing break my fast temporarily for your sake.

:-)

30/9/07 01:11  
Anonymous Thomas Hurst said...

I barely pay attention to mainstream media; I don't really watch TV, I don't read newspapers.. I dip in from time to time, rapidly get my fill and return to swimming in the wealth of information and news I find relevant to me from less conventional sources.

Burma? Yeah, that sucks, I'll keep an eye on what's going on there, but Madeline Whatshername? Why should I care, other than as a bit of morbid fuel for conversation I'd rather not have? Yet mainstream media likes to give "One Missing Cute White Girl" a lot more air time than "Hundreds of Thousands die needlessly because of $something"; if that's not burying your head in the sand I don't know what is.

Am I avoiding reality? Sure, but that's what people do; our entire lives are spent building abstractions to protect us from the harsh nature of reality, everything from God and Magic Spirit Energy (sorry Joseph ;) to the entire economy and the huge game that is politics. We live in hyperreality - better than the real thing! (because it's smaller, simpler, and mostly fits in a few lbs of squishy protein).

News is no different; it's a game of "find something that might be happening that will attract eyeballs for our advertisers", which doesn't generally encourage a large degree of accuracy, so much as packaged soundbytes that tend to imply what you should be thinking while you quietly get programmed to buy the latest brand of air freshener. Even well documented scientific studies tend to be misrepresented to suit the audience, because "Latest study shows Cannabis makes you mad!11!!!" is easier and way more popular than "Latest dubious meta-analysis on Cannabis doesn't really show much of a link to anything if you actually read more than the synposis".

If the press can completely misrepresent even peer reviewed science, and utterly fail to correct itself when it gets it wrong, what hope does it have of reporting anything else accurately? Given that that isn't the goal, maybe mostly ignoring it is the right thing to do :)

1/10/07 21:11  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not true. Yes, the media sensationalises stuff, everyone knows that. Thing is, if you've got half a brain (and/or don't Fox News or read The Daily Mail) you should be able to distinguish between what is really worth getting het-up about and what isn't. It's not hard.

When bird-flu was all over the papers and the news, you'd think we were all doomed. Did I run to the chemist and stock up on Tamiflu? No. Did I constantly worry I would catch it every time I saw a pigeon? No. It's just media-savvy...it's not a difficult thing to acquire...anyone brought up in this day and age learns it almost by osmosis. And it DOESN'T mean you become desensitized - when I see reports of disaster/tragedy on the news I still feel empathy and distress as keenly as the next person - I'm still human, with emotions, believe it or not.

It's a skill worth having, I tell you, I feel a hell of a lot more informed and generally better in myself to know what is happening in the world around me. Even if it is "all bad news"...

8/10/07 00:14  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS: Joseph...have just read a couple of your latest entries...expect some comments, expect some comments ; ) haha

8/10/07 00:17  

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