I used to think that people who spent time reading about celebrities on gossip magazines (or ‘entertainment news’) were complete imbeciles who had nothing better to do with their time. Why read and gossip about celebrities who have no direct influence over your life? But then, I realized that I was doing the exact same thing every time I watched or read the news and discussed politics with other people: I was expending time and mental energy on things that had practically no influence on me which I had little to no control over.
The news media works by capturing your attention with the most attention grabbing information available, which naturally tends to be very negative in general. Even if there are positive news, people are more likely to be drawn to the negative ones and have a better memory of them. These negative information provoke fear, grief, and outrage while providing nothing of value to the person absorbing them. It seems inexplicable then, that people would continue to absorb whatever news they can in spite of there being no tangible advantages. The only other possible explanation is that people are simply reading, writing, and discussing news as a form of entertainment just as they do with celebrity gossips.
People want to satiate their boredom and curiosity by engaging themselves in politics—both local and global. They want to feel involved and they want to feel intelligent and important. They tell themselves that the knowledge will come handy one day. They want to assure themselves that they matter. And the news business meets that demand by providing the masses with what they desire.
Some of these people will be offended by the suggestion that their news media consumption is nothing but a way of entertaining themselves. They’ll say that it’s a way of educating oneself and go on great lengths to explain why it’s so important to be aware of what is happening around the world so that changes can be made.
If you are one of those people, then here’s a quick test you can do to see just how much difference you are making:
- First, grab a sheet of paper and list all forms of media you use to consume news. These can include news broadcast on television, newspapers, radio, magazines, internet, social media, etc.
- Next, estimate all the time and money you spent consuming these media in the past five or ten years. Include all the time you spent reading, watching, listening, thinking, discussing, and analyzing. Also take into account the emotional cost and how much it drains your ability to focus on other tasks. Make sure you write them all down.
- Finally, list all the difference you have made in the world and for yourself by absorbing news media for the past five or ten years. Were you able to apply any of those knowledge? How much? Have you taken any action to change the world? (Asinine social media activism doesn’t count). If you did do something, how much information did it take for you to take action? Probably not a lot.
I myself cannot think of any positive change that was made as a result of consuming news media for years. All the outrage, all the analyzing, discussing, and debating hadn’t made one iota of difference. All that time and mental energy could have been used, instead, to improve myself to become a better man. Reading a single book or an article on a new knowledge has made a greater positive impact on my life than the countless hours I spent on following what’s happening at some far away place irrelevant to me.
News media is a toxic device that fools you into thinking that the world has become smaller; when in fact, the only thing that has become smaller is you—the consumer. If you want to make changes, then take action. You already know more than enough to do what you believe is right. If you opt not to do so, or don’t feel ready yet, then take Gandhi’s advice and be the change you want to see in the world. Focus on yourself and what you have in your immediate control instead of caring about the outer world that you have no control over.