I don’t watch the news. Ever.
In fact, I haven’t watched the news in about 6 years.
And I’m a much happier person for it.
But the reaction I get from people when I tell them I don’t watch the news is wide ranging. Often its surprise, occasionally it’s an immediate assumption about my level of intellect, or that I’m choosing to be ignorant to what’s going on in the “real world”, and every now and again it’s a bluntly rude retort about how they prefer to be an “informed citizen”.
Power to you.
But here’s the thing. My old job involved dealing with plenty of harsh realities about our world. Every single day. Throughout my career, I had to regularly remind myself that 90% of my time was devoted to a meagre 10% of the population (realistically, likely much less than that), and the world I was exposed to day in and day out was simply not an accurate representation of the world as a whole.
The reminders helped me, but even being aware of it, I can’t deny that my view of the the world and people in general was slowly and steadily shifted.
It got to the point where I very consciously decided that I saw enough of the bad in our world during my working hours, I didn’t need to watch more of it on the 6 o’clock news every night.
Not to mention that because I actually personally dealt with many, many, of the most unpleasant things in our society, I often had firsthand knowledge of the actual story. So when I would go home and turn on the 6 o’clock news, it was hard not to notice just how incredibly WRONG the news often got things.
And if they were getting the things I actually knew about so very wrong, it wasn’t a leap to assume that most of what I was hearing was in actual fact, completely inaccurate.
My decision to stop watching the news also came at a time when our oldest son was about 4 years old. I distinctly recall him asking me a number of questions about school shootings, because he had seen a report playing in the background at a friends house.
It forced me to wonder about how strongly the mere exposure to the content on the news colours our view of the world around us. Not just for us as adults, but for our kids as well.
While I am a firm believer that we shouldn’t shelter our kids from the realities of the world, I’m not convinced that the news does a very good job of representing the actual realities of our world.
Not to mention that graduated, age appropriate exposure to those realities seems to be a more ideal approach than allowing our homes to be inundated with the 6 o’clock headlines.
I get it – stories with scandal, and shock value capture peoples attention. But fear mongering and click bait comes at a price.
That price is a skewed perspective. A darkening lens through which we start to see the world around us. One that leaves us wondering what’s becoming of our world, and feeling hopeless that things will ever improve. And it happens slowly, over time, to the point where we don’t even realize how substantially our environment can alter our view points, and shift our opinions.
Like the 730PM Mars bar commercial that suddenly leaves you feeling like you need a sweet snack, when a moment before you were just talking about how full you were from dinner, we humans are easily influenced.
PARTICULARLY when we don’t recognize that we are being influenced. And our entire society is currently structured around information sources that heavily influence our every thought process.
So what happens when a society grows up consistently seeing much more bad than good? Or a society is exposed for decades to an onslaught of incorrect facts, spun and manipulated beyond recognition, all in an effort to capture a greater market share and higher ratings?
Maybe being an informed citizen is no longer about keeping abreast of the latest news.
Maybe it’s about engaging with our community. Seeing, firsthand, the good and the bad in our very neighbourhoods. And recognizing that more often than not, the former substantially outweighs the latter.
Maybe it’s about forming our own opinions about the world around us through firsthand observations, experience, and engagement, rather than having those opinions subtly formed, pushed and prodded by “the news”, or social media.
And maybe – just maybe, our ignorance is in continuing to consume those media sources, feeding the machine, and clicking on those “irresistible” headline.
Would we instead feel a little more informed, and a whole lot more free, if we all just stopped watching?