Pasman: Don’t watch the news — your sanity depends on it

In his screenplay “Because the Internet,” Donald Glover alludes to the fact that, “On the internet, you don’t really have to feel much of anything unless you want to.”

This line appears to be particularly relevant to the current landscape of online news. So much news comes at us that many people don’t read anything besides the headlines. The way we pay attention to news has changed and so has the way we interpret events around the world.

In this age of social media and information overload, it’s easy to get sucked into an endless spiral of reading breaking news on Twitter and other social media platforms. Instead of waiting to watch nightly, people can tune in 24/7 and hear about news stories right as they happen through social media. The concept of live-tweeting has taken off, where people discuss news events right as they unfold, sometimes right in front of their eyes. A noteworthy twitter user, with the twitter handle @TheePharoah, tweeted first-person, minute-by-minute accounts of  Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson right as it happened.

When you scroll from headlines of tragedy to more tragedy, it seems to deaden our ability to process what has happened and instead cheapens the news event. We are receiving news at such a rapid pace that the humanity seems to be taken away from the occurrence. We don’t have time to take in the magnitude of one event because we are already being bombarded by the next. It’s a lot easier to read statistics about how many people died in an accident or attack rather than actually reading about who those people were and who they left behind.

Part of the problem seems to be coming from online journalists’ use of sleazy “clickbait” headlines, using misleading or sensationalist titles in order to get more views. It’s a simple concept: get more readers to click on the story and more revenue is generated for the website and journalist. Sites like BuzzFeed use attention-grabbing headlines to draw their readers into their latest quiz to see which Kardashian they’re most like. There is no real point in reading these articles besides their entertainment value. These practices contribute to the quantity-over-quality trend of online journalism, with some people going so far as to even call clickbait the death of journalism.

 It’s a lot easier to read statistics about how many people died in an accident or attack rather than actually reading about who those people were and who they left behind. 

Another major problem with following the news is that it gives us a distorted perspective of what’s happening in the world. News outlets know that stories about terrorist attacks, killings and other problems will generate the most traffic. This leads people to believe that the world is an awful place. While the unfortunate news may be true, there are also stories of triumph and good deeds that don’t gain much attention. One news site called Positive News, is attempting to provide empowering news that leads to solutions, not just informing us of problems.

Absorbing news is a passive activity. People sit on their smartphones surfing Twitter or curl up on the couch to catch the nightly news.  As Napoleon Hill states in Think and Grow Rich, “Knowledge is only potential power. It becomes power only when, and if, it is organized into definite plans of action, and directed to a definite end.” There is nothing inherently valuable about learning what’s going on in the world without taking action to change it.

Most people read news stories and then use them to complain about everything that’s wrong in the world to their friends. Complaining about Donald Trump seems to be the most cliché topic in America right now. Very few people actually take action when they read about a problem in the world. 

Not only is paying attention to the news often a waste of time, there is actually evidence that in some cases it can be harmful. Due to the endless stories of terrorism throughout the world, many people have begun to live in fear of being the victim of a terrorist attack, which actually only has a one in 3.6 billion chance of happening. Israeli researchers have found that there are real health consequences associated with living with this fear. A higher resting heart rate associated with elevated cardiovascular risks is found among those who fear terror the most. Fearing these attacks because of frequent media coverage actually leads to real physical health issues.

Although we seem to be trapped in an endless onslaught of media, there is a way out. UO journalism Professor Peter Alilunas leads a yearly digital detox project in his Journalism 201 class. Students are asked to take an eight-hour break from all forms of media. The purpose behind the assignment is to bring awareness to how much of our lives are taken up by media and to realize the potential downsides that our habits have.

“Social media tends to distract people from human relationships, and I think this assignment shows students that. We’re forgetting the ability to talk to other humans,” Alilunas said.

Maybe the way we get more connected to the world around us is by detaching ourselves from the constant stream of input that is media. I do, however, realize the irony in all of these issues — I’m still writing about them for the news.

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Toby Pasman

Toby Pasman