Why watching too much news is bad for you
Watching too much news is really bad for you and media spreads too much negativity. In this article I’m going to show you that news and knowledge are two different things. I’ll also explain to you the difference between correlations and single events and make a case for why it is better for you to keep your exposure to news and negativity to an absolute minimum.
Looking for knowledge?
If we want to learn something about the world, whether it’s about political events, the spread of a virus or some kind of a catastrophe, what do we do? Exactly, we switch on TV or radio or go online to take a look at… the NEWS. News is about current, topical events and that’s where we go if we want to know more about the world, right? Well, that's what you think you do but I claim it's a bit more complicated.
I’m not going sugarcoat it. I want to dive straight into my assumption, so here we go: it’s not good for you to watch news all the time. It’s not even healthy for you to watch or read them every day. Unless it’s a time of emergency there’s no need for you to follow up with the news. Why am I framing it as if the news was something negative? Do I mean fake news? No, not even that. There’s a real problem with fake news but the established and known news platforms are not fake news. The actual bigger problem with news goes far more deeper and is less recognisable. Let me explain.
The problem with news
News companies do a really bad job of making people realise the right proportions and contexts in which we should see the single events that are reported about. There we go: contexts on the one hand, and the actual single events on the other hand. Besides, the name 'news' says it all: it’s reporting about new events that have just happened.
You might take a single event into consideration but are you really truly informed in this way? No, not at all. Single social events (I consciously leave out natural disasters) are just the outer manifestation of processes that go on in society under the surface of daily news reporting. To really understand why a social event matters you need to see the different contexts and relations in which it happens. If you don’t take the contexts and relations into account then you just perceive a single event and you can’t really make sense out of it. You won’t even recognise why it should matter.
The truly important insights (and therefore knowledge) are gained through the recognition of broad relations, contexts, and often historical timelines, and that’s something you never get to know if you just blindly follow the daily news. The news companies need to make money too, have a vested interest in drawing your attention so that they have a high viewership. It’s crucial for their existence and profits as well.
news are money-making companies
That doesn’t mean news companies are bad - society needs them and to make money is a legitimate activity of any company. That applies to news as well. All I’m saying is that there’s a problem of news focusing too much on drama and conflict just for the sake of keeping the views that bring them money from advertisers. That’s why you have lots of smart quarrelling and negativity but so little explanations of big connections, questions and backgrounds.
Ultimately, it’s not the news’ duty to make of us better intelligent human beings. Their duty is to report about events. But the real value lies in the knowledge of contexts and the underlying factors and processes that are taking place, something which is more abstract. It's harder to write a sensational headline about longterm societal processes.
contexts, single events, statistics
Why is the context important? Because it’s the context that lets you see a single event in its right place. If a plane crashes somewhere and this gets reported in the news, do you think planes keep crashing every day? Will you never ever board a plane again? Of course not. We already know that plane crashes are an exception that really rarely happens and that nearly all the flights that take place in the world on a single day will end safely. You can clearly see that if something makes it into the news it’s because it’s unusual, not because it’s normal or common. It’s important to see things in their right proportion, in their right relations, and the example of a plane crash makes it clear that a single event isn’t representative of all the other events.
Now I’d like to bring up statistics. I’m not going to bore you with mathematics but it should be said that statistics is basically a strict, logical method of analysing data, so in our case of events, and drawing correct conclusions based on that data. Statistics tells us about how patterns work. This applies to events too. People watch news all day long and they could mistakenly draw the conclusion that the world is full of wars, negativity, quarrels, and crime. But the statistics tells us that we live in the most peaceful times ever.
Distortion of reality vs. representative data
How can this be that based on news we think one thing but mathematics tells us another thing? Well, the answer is: constant watching of news distorts your view of reality. You can’t see things as they really are, you always imagine them far worse than they really are. You imagine the world to be far worse than it actually is because you are confronted with single negative events in the news and then you overgeneralise and project it onto everything else thinking that’s the way things happen everywhere in the world. Only by looking at representative data you can actually say how things are and that’s not something you will know from just one single event in a news report.
If you still think this is difficult to understand, let me give you an example. If you go to a foreign country you’ve never been before and you only have a limited time, you will only see a limited number of places, meet only a limited number of people and make only a limited number of experiences. Let’s say you only had one week. After a week you come back home and report about your experience in that foreign land. You talk about the few places you saw, the few people you met, and the few events you experienced.
Then, after a week, another person comes back from that same country and tells their story. But now their story differs from yours. They saw different places, talked to different people and made different experiences on their way. When you then compare your and their report, you could think you all went to different countries altogether. But no, they’ve been in the same one as you were. So why is the reporting different? Well, it’s different, because a country is big, and there’s a huge, infinite number of ways how you can experience a country. Therefore, the reports from different people will vary.
One single person won’t be able to give you a representative opinion of that country. Neither can two. But once you ask a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand people about that country, now you’ll be able to see clear patterns, clear opinions and factors that are common to most of those visitors. Only then you’ll have a representative insight into that country. Only then you can say I have a theoretical knowledge of that country based on a representative sample of people. That’s basically what statistics does. It tries to tell us about the big contexts, the big relations based on a multitude of events and factors. One single event alone doesn’t mean much. But a multitude of them matters a lot.
impact of negativity in media
The insights I described mean that the news isn’t a representative description of society nor of the processes in the world. The news mostly deals with single events, because they are exceptional. Single events won’t give you the knowledge and insights that statistics and analysis can give you about the world and society. That’s why it’s important to watch only so much news that you become aware of some important events, but then disregard all the other minor news which are only there to stimulate people’s inclination to negativity and conflict.
Remember, what you consume, especially with your eyesight, is something that will impact you over time. If you consume negativity and conflict every day, this will become a part of your mental attitude, a part of your character. No wonder that news is so great at spreading panic. Most of the time they won’t let you see things in perspective, in their right context, but only the single loose events.
The decision what the news companies consider news-worthy is a process of filtering information. Remember, people are mostly inclined to pay attention to drama, conflict and negativity. That brings good quotas. As a result the news will report exactly about that: drama, conflict and negativity. And what you see is what you become.
problems with News are issues of human nature
Do you now recognise the danger of watching news all the time? Where do you actually get that time to watch them? Go, live your life, do constructive things! Ignore your urge for fear and worry. See the things for what they are, be vigilant and conscious, and but don’t yield to emotions!
To wrap this up: the problem with news is a problem of human nature. We yield to our emotions too much and we use our intellect too little. Our intellect, our mentality is undeveloped. We don’t like to think. And the recognition of patterns, the recognition of contexts requires lots of reading and active thinking. Because we don’t like doing it, we don’t like words such as statistics. There’s too much connotation with logics, thinking, and dry analysis. Most people either don’t like it, or have no time to do that.
As a result people do the next thing they are capable of: they seek to stimulate their emotions. We like drama, conflict and negativity as long as we're not directly involved. If we can observe suffering from a distance, it makes us feel better about ourselves. It gives us a strange relief that we are somehow better off. I’d like to invite you to ask yourself this question: do you like watching so much negativity because you want to know about the world, or because it just stimulates the worst part in you: your repulsive drives and emotions? Are you here for knowledge or are you here to live out your trivial urges? Think about that.
Today we learnt that news and real knowledge are two different things. I explained the difference between contexts and single events, and made a case for keeping your exposure to news to a minimum. I hope you gained some perspectives and that this inspired you. I’m really here to inspire you to be your better self.