Saturday, 22 June 2013

News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier

A few months back I read this article about how News is bad for you and I thought I would give the advise a try to see what would happen. I would give up the News, sort of. Would it result in any kind of improvement in my day to day? Would it make me more .. or less ..?

The first thing to point out is that I haven't completely cut myself out of the news cycle, my radio alarm is still set at 07:00 every morning, with the (electronic) dial set to Radio 4, so I do get some news, not many as I'm normally out of the door by the time the sports section start, so this is normally about 25 minutes or fewer.

Furthermore, I don't actually go out of my way to avoid the news, but since I don't own a television, this means that at most, I'm only going to catch the odd glimpse of the news from a TV left on somewhere or a newspaper laying about. In essence, what I have done is stopped browsing news websites, mostly the BBC and various other newspapers here and abroad. 

So, Gave I had an epiphany? Has my (mild) depression lifted? my productivity increased 2 fold? 3 fold? 10 fold? Has anything changed at all?

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, there is very little that has changed in my life. I think this is probably down to two main facts:

  1. Rolf Dobelli is mostly right in his assertion that we don't really need the news.
  2. I avoid local news like the plague.
I admit that I have not completely cut myself off from the News, so perhaps we do need the News, but he is correct that there is hardly a news item that, has affected my life in any meaningful way, and I have benefited from knowing it as early as possible or most of them at all.

It is worthwhile mentioning black swans events and opportunity cost here. The former, as it would seem that only such events would be worthwhile knowing about as soon as possible and opportunity cost because all the time, mainly, spent consuming the news in the vain hope of being ready for the black swan event, which might never come and even if it does, will it compensate for all the other things that could have been done with that time (money)?

On the aftermath of the Boston bombing, somebody wrote a blog post/article on the best way of having the most accurate information about the bombing or any such event. Their suggestion was to turn yourself off from the electronic world, go out with your mates to the park or something and then read all about it on the morning paper. 

Mr Dobelli would probably argue that even reading about on the morning paper would be a waste of time, which is probably true.

I think number 2 is the key to why I feel very little change in my life without a constant stream of news.

There really is no easy way of saying this, but Local news are simply evil. They tend to concentrate, overwhelmingly, on crime and because by their very own definition, they are local, it does not even allow us to dismiss them as something that would/could not happen here, as it has happened. Furthermore, since we are notoriously bad at probability, reading them is very likely to make us anxious even though nothing, or very little, has changed about the probability of being the victim of a crime. Yet, reading about it is likely to have made us more likely to believe that crime is worse than what it actually is and even, and I'm going on a limb here, before we read the story about the horrific crime.

The murder rate in the UK is 1.2 per 100000 inhabitants or 12 per million inhabitants. The local news in my area cover approximately 1000000 people (some local media cover smaller areas, of course), which means that on average there will be 12 murders a year, or put another way: 1 per month. Not enough to be a constant worry, but enough to be a constant reminder. Never mind the fact that most of the crime is essentially criminals killing each other. Yes, there are cases were there are random acts on innocent people, but just because you can easily recall an example does not mean it's common, in fact, it's quite the opposite. Media coverage tends to be inversely proportional to frequency of an event. This is one of the reasons why the attacks on the London bombings on July 7th 2005, got the coverage they got. 

The one positive effect, that this voluntary withdrawal from news sites has had in my life, is related to my somewhat complicated relationship with sports, which I'm not going to go into detail here, but suffice to say that not knowing anything sport news has left me without those little moments of joy when the results went my way or those loooong periods of annoyance, frustration, irritation and helplessness when they didn't (I am of course exaggerating a little here for effect).

If you consume local news, I do recommend that you stop, for everybody else you can probably carry on as you were, but know that being au fait with the latest is unlikely to be of much use for anything unless your job depends on it, in which case what the hell are you doing reading this blog?

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