Sunday, June 21, 2015

Time for a media fast

Here's the news cycle that the web encourages:

Say you find a story that for some reason interests you, like maybe the Rachel Dolezal story, to name a nonstressful example.

You read the first reports as they start to come in from feeder sites.  Then you go to the NY Times, WaPo, Chronicle, Inside Higher Ed or other actual news sources. You click on their links.

Then you go to HuffPo, Jezebel, Slate or other quasi-news aggregator sites. You notice that what's reported in all these various sites and that the sites conflict with each other. In the Dolezal story, for example, that would be all the variations on number of siblings and so on.

Maybe you check out the comments to see if any insiders have information.  Maybe you even click on the listicle aggregators ("Five things to know about Rachel Dolezal," "What Twitter thinks of Rachel Dolezal," etc.) that are basically automated collections of what people no better informed and far more angry, hostile, and profane than yourself think of the issue.

Maybe you read the long, thoughtful opinion pieces, or at least skim them. 

If you're on Facebook, people have stories and opinions. Lots of opinions.

If you're on Twitter, people have opinions and outrage.  Lots of outrage.

As new revelations come out, you read those, too, because whether it's fracking or Rachel Dolezal or some other story, you want to see how it ends.

Before you know it, you've sunk way too much time in following a story that isn't worth that kind of time and attention.

It's not that you should barricade yourself away from the news or refuse to have conversations about it.  But you realize that you should have spent your time instead on something worthwhile where your attention could make a difference.

It's like the information is rat food in a Skinner box, and you are the rat, pressing the bar for more. The food pellets, though, are composed of anger, outrage, and stress.

So here are five things I intend to do the next time I start scurrying down this particular web rabbit hole. 

1)  Go outside and run my hands over the lavender, which is in bloom, so my hands will smell like lavender as I type.
2)  Pick some weeds out of the garden.
3) Stand up and read something.
4) Turn off the wifi or use Freedom.
5) Log the time I'm wasting, with RescueTime or something else, or stop going on Facebook.

Maybe this is a media diet rather than a fast, but it's a start.

*Edited to add: I don't mean to be ungrateful about Facebook--it does let me connect with friends and family members--but a break sounds like a good idea.


sophylou said...

Yes, I am definitely due for a fast. I deliberately stayed away from most of the Dolezal story. The Charleston story, however, made me think of how I felt when 9/11 happened: that the first day or so, I watched the news (and I am not big on following the news in general for all the reasons you describe. The media was as stunned/emotional as we all were, and they just... reported. It felt important, and raw, and real. After about two days the usual stories with the emotionally manipulative "angles" all started, and I checked out. I knew I was supposed to be glued to the TV-- and that was about the time when the media started telling us to check out and take breaks from, well, it, which obviously they didn't really want. .... So now I'm thinking about following a story while it's fresh and then checking out once the endless media processing begins.

I have a conference coming up and I'm looking forward to a long flight and lots of in-person time.

Good luck with fasting!

undine said...

sophylou--Thanks. Your comment helps me to clarify how I think about these events. It seems as though since all the news is hyped equally, somehow we feel equally compelled to follow it. That's appropriate for a tragedy like Charleston but less so for the other things that are compelling attention.