Sunday, September 25, 2016

Soul-Destroying, Time-Destroying

I recognised again yesterday what a drain it is to follow current events. Not because it's so hard, but because it is so easy.  It's like eating chips or M&M's.

CS Lewis did not take a newspaper for this reason.  "If there's something important going on, someone will be sure to tell you about it.  More than one." The information usually turns out to have been only partly accurate.  It is about things things that you cannot much affect. Most of the reading is about the comparative outrage that people on one side or another feel, and feel the need to weigh in on. While the information you see is important in one sense, because it is tragedy for someone and thus gripping, it usually affects you about as much as you affect it.  Not at all.

Lots of people scream at you that it should be important to you, certainly. Many of the issues the events touch on are important in themselves: wars, elections, racism, the economy.  But the events themselves don't often give anything you don't already have in order to do something about those.

I fear it is like the weather.  It gives us something to chat about that we expect others will be receptive to.  It can be harder to start a general conversation otherwise.  But it then steers us quickly into conversations that are also like eating chips or M&M's, including conversations with people we know have much more to offer. Current events offer opportunities for mild wit, whether repeated or original.

Or, it leads us to paths of being outraged, because we do like that more than we would care to admit. It's an easy way to pretend that we are thinking hard and caring much.  I say "we" advisedly.  I think I see this is happening in others, then I check inside my own heart and find the same, which I take as confirmation.  Perhaps it isn't true of you.

Worse, it is a path of least resistance, preventing you from getting around to reading, watching, or doing things that you know will ultimately please you more.  When I chance to read newspapers or magazines from even a few years ago, I am struck by how little of it is valuable.

Lastly, when you follow current events closely, you become like the people who follow current events closely.  Not surprising.  High school social studies teachers told us it was very important to keep up with current events.  They seemed to think it was impossible to be a good citizen without it. NPR's game shows are largely about current events, and they clearly think that people who follow those closely are a better, smarter sort of person. Perhaps those are only more sociable people, or - and this is what worries me - the sort of person who lives in the hive mind, influenced only by the mild, sociable, predigested world, who in turn unconsciously influences others to obey the hive mind as well.  Nothing really challenging or life-changing ever gets in.  Readers and people of intellect are in far greater danger of this, because they believe print, and believe other readers, believing them to come from the proper hive.

Shorter version:  I have important books to read that I don't get to because I get sucked into news-bearing sites and the accusations and counteraccusations of the news. Soul-destroying, time destroying. I'll have an example coming. If I get around to it.  But I have more important things to do, and I simply must force myself to do those. If that post gets written, it will be called "God and Country."

8 comments:

Sam L. said...

Do what's important to you. We'll wait.

james said...

"If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you're mis-informed."

― Mark Twain

We use yahoo mail for some things, and in the list of news/op-ed squibs that appear when you logout was the headline: "Why the Brangelina breakup matters."

Texan99 said...

I'm boycotting the news for the most part lately, but I don't feel right about it. I do feel it's an important obligation of citizenship to keep up with the problems facing the commonwealth, and the proposed actions of our elected government to deal with them. Nevertheless, lately I've just had it.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I'll bet if you read thoughtful non-news sources you pick up most of it anyway. Nicholas Nassim Taleb defines it in terms of poor signal-to-noise ration in the news.

herfsi said...

amen. thank you for your post - it's better than any newspaper article!

jaed said...

There's "keeping situational awareness" and then there's obsessively following current events. The former is sort of a general awareness of what the current events are, without following the details, and "glancing at the front page" used to give you that. (The operative word being "glance".)

I started noticing a year or two ago that I wasn't following links to analysis pieces that sounded interesting, because the odds were very good that they wouldn't contain anything I didn't already know.

I think part of the problem here is that we see a story, we want to get details and analysis, and we see a lot of text that looks like it promises these things. So we start reading and following links, only to find that there's no meat to any of it. It's all fluff, and very repetitive. I get into this frustrating cycle where I'm doing all this reading but the first thing I read actually contained all the facts I'm going to get. I could have spent two minutes instead of an hour... but I really do want to know more, so I continue helplessly trawling for any actual information. It's thin on the ground.

It's sort of like feeling gnawing hunger (because you need protein), and therefore grazing on anything you can find in the kitchen (crackers, Snakwell's, whatever) which is mostly carbohydrate. I used to do that a lot before I realized that the sensation means I should eat some meat or cheese or eggs, not grab whatever I can get my hands on. I would end up feeling physically stuffed, but still hungry. A very unpleasant sensation, and not unlike what happens when I try to catch up on current events.

james said...

DAvid Warren's latest is closely related.

jaed is on the money--there's lots of "Read Me!" and not much they actually say.

Reading news is my gluttony. There's lots available off the beaten path--not always accurate, of course, but you can learn to adjust for some of that. But it just sort of fattens me up well beyond my needs. 7 deadly sins...

jaed said...

As a first step, I've been trying to avoid comments lately. (Some sites like this one excepted, obviously.) I just now was at Instapundit, and there was a post that was interesting to me on a number of levels, and the tempting label: "468 comments". What I want is a meaty discussion bringing out all aspects of the subject. Reading and participating in something like that would not be a waste of time. It would be outright good. The problem is that the actual comments section is going to be ninety-nine percent (variously) fussing and fighting, observations I've already thought of, and off-topic rants about Trump and responses to them and responses to responses. So I shouldn't click.

The problem with that is that, statistically, I can expect four or so comments with one or more of a trenchant point I haven't thought of already, an interesting link, or a joke that will actually make me laugh. And I want those four comments.

And the problem with that is that spending forty minutes reading in order to get four possibly interesting things is a stupid use of time.

P.S. Thanks for linking the Warren essay. I liked that.