Newsflash: It’s Toxic

The news industry systematically abuses a very basic human instinct: when our sympathetic nervous systems are constantly bombarded with compelling stories of danger, tragedy, and other fight-or-flight triggers, we are led to false assumptions and faulty brain circuitry concerning perceived threats.

  • News media grants fame–and, therefore, perceived credibility–to movie stars and TV personalities. Fame, contrary to common sense, is not directly correlated with substantive achievement (see the 45th American president).
  • It is the job of journalists and reporters to scrape up news stories. Since they can’t be expected to come up with newsworthy content continuously, a lot of news is redundant, sensational, or inane.
  • Predictions about the weather or the stock market are probably more consistent in how they affect people’s moods than they are in their accuracy-and despite best efforts at fact-checking, sometimes the news is just wrong. In this way, news can be not only useless, but damaging.
  • News strives to offer up facts, and facts do not help people understand what’s happening in the world around them.
  • Despite the “just the facts ma’am” front, advertisers and shareholders have messages they want to convey and people they don’t want to offend; in this way, news media becomes a playground for publicity stunts and propaganda.
  • News kills curiosity, a key component of creativity. Creative minds are almost never “news junkies.” Conversely, news media almost never inspires new solutions.
  • Growing rates of depression correspond almost perfectly with the expansion of media technologies, over time. This could be a coincidence, but it may be that to-the-minute updates on gun violence, bombings, kidnappings, war and destruction create an unhealthy cognitive feedback loop.
  • Despite the delusion that we consume news because we care about what’s going on in the world, news has a numbing effect. It overwhelms our sensibilities and diverts us from actively connecting with and caring for actual people.

Limiting deliberate news consumption to a favorite weekly, or simply tuning-in to your local public radio station on short drives, might be a moderate approach to Dobelli’s news diet. Dobelli favors more “nutrient dense” learning materials. Indeed, by choosing books, magazines, or select podcasts of personal interest, you assume the active role of knowledge seeker, as opposed to the passive one of target audience. Choose your materials for their unflinching content rather than their entertainment value, and you may just reconnect with the joy of learning!

To My Children: Sharing what I know about the world with you, experiencing your own discoveries vicariously, and engaging in educational exploration together describes some of my most joyful parenting moments. Entertainment has a valuable place in our lives and, for the world, I wouldn’t replace Harry Potter with The Economist as bedtime reading. However, when we endeavor to care about what’s going on in the world, let’s strive to find substantive ways to expand our awareness and extend ourselves.

Nelle Myrica Donaldson is a writer living Berkeley, CA with her husband and three children. Her academic interests and expertise are in biology, psychology and anthropology, and she enjoys writing about the human experience through the lenses of parenting, science, and speculative fiction.

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