By Kaveh Nasseri Mashhadi
Stop watching the news. This is not a politically motivated call to action, nor a statement made with any intention to shock. It’s a hope, a plea, and above all a critique of the news media and the incredibly destructive relationship that we (both as human beings and as consumers) have with it.
We live in a day and age where information is prioritized above all else and young people are being encouraged to engage with the news (after all, it’s important to stay informed), but things aren’t necessarily what they seem. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that engaging with the news and subsequently expanding one’s cultural/social/political palette is conducive to more knowledge and more prosperity, the truth is that we should all cut down on news consumption if we want to lead fulfilling lives.
In considering the myriad problems associated with excessive news consumption, we first have to understand the time limitations which guide the life of a college student. After all, our schedules are tight enough without having to worry about the news. But in spite of the obvious obstacles which invariably prevent us from giving sufficient time to the news, we’ve been conditioned to believe that news is something we need as opposed to something we occasionally use. Such a belief is, quite frankly, ridiculous.
The issue of time is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding our relationship with the news. Even more troubling is the fact that, regardless of political orientation or ideological leaning, the mainstream media tends to present viewers with a decidedly pessimistic view of the world, one that subtly (and perhaps even intentionally) encourages nihilism, passivity, and sociopolitical resignation. Such behavior is detrimental to our being insofar as it keeps us from taking initiative to change things, having instead grown accustomed to the status quo and been trained to accept life as a continual cycle of harm, suffering, and cruelty.
Assuming we’re all aware of the mental health crisis which continues to plague this generation, it’s time to ask what role the news media plays in creating and exacerbating said crisis. It should be clear by now that excessive news consumption is nothing but a detriment to our mental health and wellbeing, not to mention the dulling effect it has on our capacity for political participation, activism, and general involvement.
It’s difficult to get up off the couch when the TV (or the internet, or whatever source you use to obtain your news) is showering you with the darkest side of humanity 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. When international tragedy, domestic crime, political corruption, and the hate-fueled rancor of a disaffected populace follow each other up with increasingly concerning news blurbs on CNN or Fox, not even the most youthfully energetic viewer will come away from the screen feeling motivated, mobilized, or intellectually enriched. On the contrary, modern news media provokes in the general populace a feeling of demotivation and disillusionment, contributing to a trend of nihilism that already permeates public discourse. It does this by battering us with those demoralizing headlines left and right (and without any context), keeping us trapped in a perpetual cycle of media consumption.
Consider for a moment the evolution of the news media and the extent to which our relationship with information changed alongside it. The truth is that the 24-hour news cycle is a modern creation, one that wasn’t seen as necessary or even particularly valuable until recent decades. What’s more, the fact that most major news outlets are backed by private corporations lends a for-profit incentive to what should be unbiased news delivered in the public interest. In truth, the very existence of modern news corporations should raise red flags.
With that having been said, I stand by the argument that we are not more knowledgeable than our forefathers; we simply have access to more information. But random servings of decentralized information are hardly conducive to the spread of knowledge; on the contrary, they thicken the already muddy waters of intellectual discourse and augment the difficulty of parsing treasure from trash. This is not to say that free speech should be discouraged, but instead that we should look beyond the dim scope of television soundbites and journalistic clickbait in our ceaseless search for knowledge.
In a world where quite literally anything could be described as news by one publication or another, we’ve become increasingly blind to the issues that really matter (issues which have a direct and lasting impact on our lives and our relationship to the world, not issues which we can’t do anything about and which simply reinforce negative perceptions of humankind), and the only remedy is a self-enforced period of news media detox. It’s hardly a novel idea; thinkers like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson were well known for singing the praises of a lifestyle detached from technological stimuli and constant exposure to information. Such a life may seem solitary to us, but by cultivating a closer relationship with the natural world and disconnecting from the muck and mire of media, we’re each capable of achieving something akin to peace of mind. But in the midst of a technological revolution which birthed the society we live in today – a society so dependent on the arbitrary reportage of potentially irrelevant facts that it can’t conceive of a news-deficient lifestyle – such ideas come across as fanciful. This is a mistake. To quote Thoreau himself, “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine to Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.” The habit of constant news consumption is ultimately tantamount to constant communication, but the questions of communication with whom and whether such communication is really warranted have yet to be answered. When it comes to our relationship with news, then, this is society’s modern struggle: letting go of the need to know and embracing instead the desire to be. Allow me to repeat myself. Stop watching the news.