“You can’t be serious? How on Earth can you possibly call yourself educated and informed when you refuse to watch the news! You’re an intelligent boy Michael, I really expected better.”
This particular customer wasn’t happy that I didn’t watch the news. I also admitted to not reading the newspapers, listening to the radio or watching political shows and debates.
John (the customer) runs a financial tech company and while we’re good friends now, it took him a while to understand why I so adamantly refused to watch the news.
Refusing to watch the news, reducing your news intake and going into information ignorance can make you wealthier, wiser, happier, safer and BETTER informed than most “informed” people.
Most people pride themselves on being informed
There is an ENORMOUS paradox when it comes to consuming journalism, news and current events.
John was a great example of this. He was one of the few people that really understood what was happening with Brexit. He was also one of the only people that knew what was really going to happen with Trump.
In fact, John openly admitted to being the only person who really understood the economy, the job market, crypto-currency, North Korea, the Royal Wedding, dieting, terrorism, travel, exercise and why iPhones cost so much.
We ALL think we’re well informed
John is very well informed.
But that’s the thing. We ALL think we’re well informed. The information that John read, watched and listened to has a complete opposite bias from other sources. Meaning that everyone else who has the exact OPPOSITE opinion (or truth) considers themselves just as well informed.
Some people think the job market is bad because of immigration. Others think it’s because of automation and robots.
Some people think crime is up because of video game violence. Others think it’s because of poor parenting.
By definition, most people’s explanations CAN’T be correct. If there is conflicting information then surely only one can be true. Or, more likely BOTH are just as incorrect and they embellish their answer for various reasons.
Crime is LOWER than ever
The job market is in GREAT condition. Crime is LOWER than ever.
This post could easily slide into conspiracy theories of Mass media mind control, advertising revenue and fear-based manipulation. But in truth none of that really matters. What matters, even if what we read is true or complete nonsense, is does it really affect us?
Considering yourself well-informed is a massive paradox. We internally believe that we have some kind of insider knowledge, that allows us to have a clearer or deeper insight on the topic. However we have undoubtedly gained that knowledge from third-party sources and journalists on a mass media level.
It’s like considering Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War a small indie film. Just because you have seen it and have an opinion, doesn’t make it smaller than it is. Millions of people have consumed that content and will have just a strong opinion as you do.
The reason that people justify having an insider knowledge, is because they apply the story through their own experience and filter.
A news story about a business owner going bankrupt will produce two completely different opinions, based on our own filter and experience. On the one hand someone who has always struggled with money, and is from a lower economic background might say the business owner deserved it.
Someone who’s made a lot of money by running their own business, might say that they obviously weren’t focused enough on their business.
Someone else who’s made a lot of money by running a business might say it’s just part of becoming an entrepreneur.
The same news story can create entirely different reactions in people based on our filters. Our filters are created from our past experiences, our values and our own thought processes.
My argument is that any new story is worthless, as it’s often presented as a dramatic retelling, rather than stating the pure facts.
All news positions itself as unbiased (which is can’t ever be)
Many journalists pride themselves on being unbiased when they present a new story. This is by definition completely impossible.
When Saddam Hussein was removed from power from Iraq in 2003, most Western nations agreed that it was the right thing to do. Similarly, most Western journalists looked for stories of Iraqis celebrating their freedom, celebrating Saddam’s downfall and exploring the bright positive future that Iraq had.
Iraqi journalists however reported on a foreign nation invading their country, removing their leader and destroying healthcare, education and transport systems.
Many Iraqi citizens do not care for Western intervention. As far as they are aware, America removed a benevolent and powerful leader, only to leave the country with no infrastructure.
Regardless of your understanding. Regardless of Saddam Hussein being a murderous dictator. The news could not be possibly told in an unbiased manner because of the very nature of how we consume media.
Eventually journalists were really happy to jump on the bandwagon of the invasion being a bad idea. The exact same journalists who were originally reporting the great job that a Western invasion had done.
At its core, we can learn two things from examples like this. 1) any large story will by definition have a bias when presented to any mass market. 2) whether we like to admit it or not, this story does not affect us at all.
It’s scary calling yourself uninformed
One of the biggest reasons we hang onto our idea of consuming news, is that we like to stay informed. We are taught that being informed is safer, shows a higher intellect and is even more moral than being ignorant.
To say you’re uninformed on politics, geography, the economy or anything else covered in the news, is admitting ignorance. To some people, it’s extremely important to never be seen as ignorant.
However, recent studies have shown that the most educated people on the planet don’t make any better decisions than random chance.
In fact, Hans Rosling of TED fame, initiator of Médecins Sans Frontières in Sweden and author of Factfulness, did a test where he asked people from a wide range of backgrounds to guess the answers to large scale problems in the world.
How many of the world’s one year old children today have been vaccinated against some disease?
In all low income countries across the world today, how many girls finish primary school?
In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has…?
Every single person that answered consider themselves well informed, educated and well read. They prided themselves on reading the news, keeping up-to-date and debating current affairs.
The answers to each question were even given as a multiple choice. They could choose one of three possible answers. Fewer than 25% of people asked guessed the correct answer.
With most countries having between 10% and 2% of their population answering the correct answer.
The poverty question is one of my favourite examples. Most people believe that global poverty is either increasing or at least the of the gap between rich and poor is widening.
Poverty across the world has dropped
However statistics show that since 1997, poverty across the world has dropped to less than 9% globally. In 20 years alone poverty levels have halved. Compared to 1966 when poverty levels were around 50% (living on less than $2 per day), we are now at the lowest level of global poverty in history.
The problem is that when people answer broad sweeping statements about the state of the world, such as poverty, the economy and health. They are viewing the entire world through a very specific filter. Even though they are not as well-informed as they think they are.
We all pride ourselves on accepting evolution. We will pride ourselves on accepting having a solar-centric solar system. We’ll happily agree that the Earth is round. But on so many after massive scale truths about the world, we view it through a broken and biased lens.
Therefore, is it possible that all our perceptions about the economy, health, jobs, politics, religion and more could not only be plain wrong? But also preventing us from living a happier, more successful and wealthy life?
Imagine “knowing” that the world is getting worse. How would that affect your view on the future for your own life? How would that affect your view on your ability to earn more money, help more people, or change the world?
Can you imagine the difference it would make to your own psychology and spirit, if you only accepted things that were 100% true and that showed the world in a more positive light?
It doesn’t help me, help people
The biggest fundamental reason why I don’t watch the news or consume any kind of news content, is that it doesn’t help me help other people.
My ability to consume newspapers, radio and TV doesn’t increase my capacity to change the lives of other people.Being informed on why Amber Heard was fired from the British Cabinet, or who Kim Jong Un Has recently had assassinated doesn’t change or affect my ability to help other people.
Many journalists and news outlets pride themselves on presenting the facts to people. They say that people are better informed through them, and that they are helping people make the right choices.
Political debates and democracy are a great example of news being used to influence people’s votes.
However, statistics show that you’re basically just as likely to vote for who your parents voted for. We ignore any information that goes against our current beliefs. And we actively search out and blow out of proportion stories that support our beliefs.
We also have a habit of justifying something that we do believe in, whereas we vilify something we don’t believe in. At its core however, most of our belief systems are imprinted in us from a very young age and we don’t really have that much control over them.
Remember, NO ONE has the inside track. You aren’t smarter than everybody else just because you can justify your own beliefs with your own internal dialogue.
After all of that, does being informed on world events, bearing in mind that they are both biased and untrue, help you help people? Probably not.
People confuse opinion and offense, with fact
Something people confuse with fact, is opinion. The rise of social media and the ease at which people can create content, has led us down a path of opinions being positioned as facts.
Frankly it’s been happening with newspapers, radio shows and TV programmes for years. While journalists might say they have integrity with presenting the story “as it is”. Every single headline is by definition, designed to invoke an emotional response.
Emotional feelings and responses are personal, therefore can never be considered fact. We somehow seem to view celebrity scandals, political scandals and economic blunders as fact, because we have strong feelings about them.
Take the royal wedding for example. Prince Harry is marrying Megan Markle and I have absolutely zero opinion on it.
However a quick Google search would show plenty of emotional opinions being presented as facts.
Every single one of these results is designed to invoke an emotional response. Why? Because emotional responses get clicks. The highlighted results even show a explicit attempt at invoking a response or emotion.
This is not to have a go at headline writing. I write emotional headlines for all of my blog posts. I know that emotion sells.
However, to position an emotional response or opinion as fact, is by its very definition not journalism. Any of these pieces will have an absolute emotional bias based around the writer, the media outlet and the audience.
We also have a habit of asking other people’s opinions and positioning them as fact. Journalists are often seen asking “How do you feel about this?” or “What do you think about…?”
It’s as if we have confused individual feelings with facts.
It gets even worse when people exclaim offence or outrage at something, which has absolutely no bearing or concern to them.
Every single day there are stories of celebrities, comedians, politicians and religious leaders saying or doing something which causes offence. People then proudly exclaim their offence and outrage on channels like Twitter and Facebook, confusing their ability to publish an opinion as something worth reading.
Opinions, offence and outrage are emotions. Emotions are personal and private and therefore, could never be considered fact.
This of course raises the most impactful thought of all…
It’s been proven to make you unhappy
If something makes you unhappy, causes offence or makes you angry. Whose fault is that?
People are very quick to blame external events on their emotions. Stories about terrorism make us anxious. Stories about entrepreneurs defrauding customers make us angry. Stories about kittens being fed into a wood furnace make us unhappy (if people have got a more economic solution to my heating/kitten problem, I’m all ears).
So doesn’t the smart thing to do sound like turning all that shit off?
It’s no longer a secret that social media channels like Instagram and Facebook make us unhappy. But so do broader media channels like the news. Consuming content that is inherently negative and has a negative message, unsurprisingly will have a negative impact on your psychology.
Interestingly, reading and educating yourself on things that do matter – such as personal development, health and fitness, personal economy and finance and life management – has been proven to make people happier.
via GIPHY This makes me happy.
Ignoring the news doesn’t make you ignorant. I would even argue that consuming the news, while ignoring personal development does make you ignorant.
There are pretty well documented models, on anxiety causing people to consume and buy more things. It’s no coincidence that most news channels are surrounded by advertising. It’s very easy to get someone to buy something when they feel anxious about the future.
I don’t want to get into mind control based conspiracy theories, but I’m very sceptical of a news outlet that generates revenue from selling products, which also positions itself as an unbiased fact source.
It’d be like listening to Volkswagen saying that they are good for the environment. And that they love monkeys.
Some of it is plain wrong
We’ve already talked about how many of the stories published are skewed at best. Some of them will even purposefully present statistics in a misleading manner in order to create a story out of nothing.
So if we can already agree that being informed on current events doesn’t make you happy. We can also agree that being informed on current events doesn’t help you help more people. And we can agree that anything you do consume will be applied through the presenters bias filter THEN your own bias filter. Doesn’t it make it laughable that we still consider the news important, when most of it is wrong?
News coverage of crime goes up year on year, whereas actual crime statistics are showing that crime is going down. Headlines such as “knife crime up by 22%” or “police reports show violent crime up 24%” use very specific scenarios and data presentations to show a far higher increase than there actually is.
In fact, if you’re clever with statistics you can even present a number that’s gone down, as an increase. And vice versa.
It doesn’t make sense for the news to say “you’re safer than ever before”. Can you imagine the news for 24 hours saying how fantastic the world is and that we are in a great position? It would be laughed at, because the only way we can ever position something as serious is if it’s depressing.
Some of it is literal fantasy
Rainbow parties. This is one of my favourite news stories because it involves everything. Children, parents, sex, underage sex, teenagers, confusing language.
Humans have a very bizarre moral compass. We all agree that underage sex is a bad thing. But we LOVE news stories about it. We can’t help but read them.
If our emotional response is strong enough we won’t even fact check. We’ll just accept something as true because it’s so offensive. It’s a well-known phenomenon amongst parents for example. The idea that something is happening to their children is not worth fact checking, because they’d rather not take the risk.
And of course many media outlets love to cover stories such as rainbow parties. Or kittens in jars. Or the fact that we eat eight spiders a year. Despite the fact that all of it is literal, grade-A bullshit.
We take for granted anything that’s published as true. Despite the arguments made above, that at best they are biased and at worst they completely made up, will still follow them.
This then adds another layer to our own filter of the world, which affects our day-to-day lives. Imagine living your life thinking that the world is getting worse, based off stories and news that you’ve heard, when in fact those news stories aren’t even true. How would that affect your worldview?
Without wanting to get too heavily into conspiracy rhetoric, it’s not that far off brainwashing.
So what can I do instead?
The easiest thing to do is to switch off the TV, radio and refuse to buy newspapers. Just try it for 30 days and see if your happiness levels increase, stay the same or go down.
Anything that does affect your happiness levels, will probably not be affected by the news. Also, check in after a few days to see if you are any worse off, or poorer, or have fewer friends. I guarantee you that absolutely nothing in your life will change for the worse when you give up the news.
Instead, I have what Tim Ferris has, and I have a few well-informed people that I trust. When it comes to voting, or stories that might affect me I’ll email or call those people and ask for their opinion. If they want to spend their time reading the scholarship, argues them as a mini media source.
Educate yourself on self-improvement and emotional management. Your emotions are internal, and you are responsible for 100% of how you feel. Your feelings are entirely within your control, and once you embrace that you will know that you don’t have to rely on external sources to feel better or worse about anything.
You don’t have to proudly proclaim that you no longer watch the news, one of my favourite methods for dealing with “important” new stories is to ask people for their opinions.
For example with breaks it, I purposefully stayed away from any of the arguments made by either leader. And instead asked for the opinions of people that I cared about. When people asked me for my opinion on breaks it, I simply asked them “what do you feel about it?”
When people ask you for your opinions, what they’re really asking for is an opener for them to tell you why you’re wrong, they are right and this is why their opinion is correct.
Don’t worry about the big stories, they’ll be considered trivia at best in a few years. Smaller stories matter even less. You’re in total control of what you consume and what you create.