The Truth Behind Your News Addiction

I have a love-hate relationship with the news.

On one hand, I detest the sensational nature of the modern media industry. “BLOOD BATH IN THE MARKETS” cried one prominent online news outlet, in all-caps-size-48-font. Death. Doom. Destruction. All the worst things you can imagine, captured on one screen. I loathe the way in which these outlets clamor for our attention with pure hysteria.

And yet I can’t turn it off. Nearly every day, I find myself perusing the latest headlines, jumping between national news to local stations, consuming at blistering speeds. Work breaks often consist of some type of news checking, especially since there’s almost always some ground-breaking development. And although I almost always leave it feeling drained and exhausted, I keep coming back for more.

I know I should be more vigilant about the information I consume. It’s painfully obvious that I am more stressed and anxious when ingesting headlines. After a few minutes of clicking and reading, reading and clicking, I get the strange sense that something is controlling me. I don’t have complete control over how much time I spend; something has hijacked my attention and won’t let go.

In fact, most of us are aware of the sensationalist nature of news media outlets. It’s what we can count on them to do: to make things seem as wild and crazy as possible, to pronounce doomsday and get us all into a wild panic.

So why DO we check it, then? And why do millions of others do so, as well?

It’s not because we want to be informed citizens. The antiquated idea of a responsible, well-informed citizen is no longer relevant in a society where news has putrefied into a squalid heap of fear-inducing, ratings-producing headlines. You are no more informed after watching a narcissistic politician spew off non-facts by the minute than you were before. After all, in an age where we are inundated with information, what is an informed person, really, other than someone with poor digital boundaries?

It’s not because we need the information to run our daily lives. Of all the news we consume, how much of it is actually relevant to our day-to-day decisions? If you need to check the weather forecast or store hours, that should take all of about 60 seconds — no more. What other information do you require to be productive today?

And it’s not because we want to make the world a better place. What are you going to do as a result, for example, of a senseless murder that happened last Thursday night? What power do you have, personally, over the spread of a virus on the other side of the country, or in your own state, for that matter? There are certainly ways to obtain information to take positive action, but how often has your news consumption led to some tangible result? Reading CNN everyday isn’t the way you change the world.

The REAL reason we compulsively consume more news is because we’re numb and we’re longing to feel something.

Why do you think the horrible crimes get the widest press coverage? It’s not because they’re the most important. It’s because we’re so numb, we require the digital version of shock therapy to make us feel anything.

We’ve become so overstimulated by the daily barrage of sensationalism that our nervous systems are completely overwhelmed. We ingest quantities of information that grossly exceed anything the human brain is designed to process. Like an alcoholic who progressively needs more liquor to feel the same buzz, we constantly need more sensationalism to feel anything.

The rapid numbing of America has desensitized us from normal, everyday tragedies. Bank robberies and car thefts simply won’t do it. Someone getting assaulted doesn’t usually do it, either, unless it’s especially graphic. No, we require the Everclear of crime: we need death and destruction. If you need proof, just take a look at the latest list of Hollywood blockbusters or the most popular series streamed online.

Our brains simply aren’t designed to handle the quantities of information we are currently consuming. We evolved in small communities and villages, where you knew the people around you. If something happened in a distant land hundreds of miles away, you were simply unaware. It took days, weeks or longer for meaningful news to travel. Now we have (in the palm of our hands, no less) instant access to more information than we could ever consume in a lifetime.

For all the benefits the digital revolution, and specifically the internet, has bestowed upon us, our brains are woefully unequipped for those quantities of information. When overloaded, our minds filter anything which it deems not essential. We simply cannot give 100% of our attention to 10 different things; it is humanly impossible. Therefore, if we spread our attention amongst 10 different pieces of news information, the only way our nervous system can handle it is if we numb ourselves. If one death made us sad, how would we feel if we truly absorbed the emotional impact of ten deaths? 100? It is simply not possible.

We numb ourselves not because we are bad people, but because it’s the only way we can cope with the vast quantities of information coming at us. We’ve numbed ourselves so much that we need constant digital stimulation just to feel normal. Take away any teenager’s phone and you’ll quickly be reminded of its importance in their life.

But numbness quickly begins to feel like death. We’ll do anything to fill the void, anything that will make us feel something — feel anything. With the click of a button, we instantly trigger a barrage of over-the-top stories that yank us from one emotional extreme to another. Deep in a trance, we consume one story after another, plugged into a system designed to keep us coming back for more.

The Industrial News Complex

If you think the news is designed to keep you informed, you’re mistaken.

If one seeks to be informed, one must ask: Informed about what? And for what purpose?

I could pick up a book about the French Revolution and inform myself about that topic. How exactly would that help me right here, right now?

Being informed is only relevant when discussed in the context of a specific matter. Being informed of “everything happening everywhere” simply is not possible. To distill the entire universe of information into something digestible, we must establish some criteria upon which to filter the information.

Furthermore, simply aspiring to be informed of the most important facts and news (in a broad, generic sense) is futile. In a world of over 7 billion people, who decides what is important and what isn’t? Importance is relative; something important to a factory worker in Michigan may not be something important to a retiree in Florida. Checking the news for the most “important” developments is nonsensical.

Many of us engage with news in a manner that one might describe as impulsive. We check our favorite news sites multiple times per day, reading, watching videos, following the trail of clicks wherever it may lead. Each headline portending more death and destruction than the one before it, we notice the destructive effect is has on our mood and concentration. Yet despite the shock and disgust each time we consume, we check it weekly, daily, or even multiple times per day.

Which is exactly what the system is designed to do: Keep you coming back for more. Have you ever noticed that things are never brought to a calm, serene conclusion? The story never ends “Happily ever after.” Instead, we’re fed more uncertainty, more doom and gloom coming ahead. And you NEED to be tuned in because you NEED to know what happens next. Or so they want you to think.

Don’t underestimate the power of the news machine. Armed with intelligence about raw human fears and desires, decades of learning on human behavior, and sophisticated algorithms that mine your data, it knows how to grab your attention and keep it. Your brain has been hijacked without your even knowing it. And a highly-tuned algorithm directs your attention where it pleases.

Is the news industry broken? Of course not. This is exactly the way the Industrial News Complex is designed to work. It isn’t about giving you the most useful, relevant information to improve your life. It’s about captivating your attention and converting that attention into advertising revenue. Most mainstream news agencies are, after all, owned by for-profit companies with shareholders seeking a return on their investment. The more viewership they hold, the more financially successful become. It’s really not that complicated.

It’s centered around a business model where you are not the customer; you are the product being sold. The free news you consume is the grain you’re fed to keep you in your stable. The customers are companies advertising to buy your brain space. Why have you been wanting a Tesla the last few years, anyhow? Like it or not, your beliefs, perceptions and attitudes are susceptible to influence, just like mine are. Those beliefs, perceptions and attitudes shape our purchasing decisions. And they’re on sale to the highest bidder.

The Path to Freedom

Does any of this make you angry? It should. Most of us have been deceived into believing we’re being responsible citizens by consuming the news. We often pride ourselves on knowing this little factoid here or there. But without our realizing it, we’ve been sucked into a vortex of manipulative, strategically created content designed to hold our attention hostage and feed us into the economic grinder.

Here’s the truth: The news is NOT here to help you. It’s not to inform you. It’s not to educate you or make you smarter. It is designed to do one thing: control your attention. If it can do that, it is successful. If it cannot, it fails.

One of the healthiest things you can do is to take a news detox. Give your brain and your nervous system a break to recover from the madness and mayhem. Give yourself space to connect with your own internal truth. Instead of seeking to fill the void with more sensationalism, find healthier things that make you feel how you want to feel. I personally find that sunshine, fresh air and a good book leave me feeling energized and refreshed.

As we enter a new era, one in which a global pandemic spreads rapidly across the globe, there are many things we cannot control: the number of infections, the mortality rate, the medical infrastructure available. We can, however, decide how we manage our internal world. Do we hand over the controls to sensationalist news outlets looking to capitalize on our fears? Or do we consciously choose an information diet which supports our mental health and wellbeing?

Although we may believe our choice does not alter the fate of humanity, it, in fact, does. Our collective knowledge and wisdom is needed now more than ever before. And if we are perpetually plugged into hypnotic streams of death and destruction, we are cut off from that wellspring.

THIS is the breaking news. Your mind, heart and soul are on the line. Which way are you gonna go?