Despite my daily frustration at what I see as media propaganda, I freely admit I am addicted to news. Apart from a brief period of abstinence (of which, more later), I have had a daily newspaper delivered for as long as I can remember and Radio 4 is the constant background to my life. A recent article in The Guardian headlined, “News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier” caught my eye. Firstly I thought it was brave for any newspaper to publish such a piece and secondly I though the author Rolf Dobelli had some extremely good points.
One of the main problems is that we now have news saturation. A couple of decades ago, householders would watch the Nine O’ Clock News, perhaps have a newspaper but that would probably be all the information they required. Now we have News 24, on-line newspaper which are constantly being updated and many of us are permanently plugged in to our Twitter feeds lest we miss out on the latest events. Some think that having this information is fabulous,we can all get a handle on what is happening internationally, we can all be informed. But,and here’s the rub-does any of what we read or know have any effect on our daily lives? The answer is surely “no.” The news can evoke emotions of sadness or horror for a few seconds but would our lives continue in the way they always do without this new knowledge? Of course they would.If we consume say 10,000 news stories annually, how many affect our decision making process. And if they did you we would be constantly re-evaluating our lifestyles. One week red wine is good for us, the next it may kill us.The news is simply irrelevant.
A few years ago when I read Tom Hodgkinson’s wonderful book ‘How to Be Free’ I decided to give up on the newspaper as his advice to banish anxiety suggested this was a good idea. I lasted about a month and during the first week I was lost at the breakfast table without my daily fix of the headlines. I did gradually get over it but I missed the cryptic crossword and the betting tips and the cartoons, not to mention the paper boy, so I was inexorably drawn back to the daily rag I’m afraid.
The other thought-provoking point made by Dibell is the sheer amount of time wasted consuming this irrelevant news could be time spent reading books from which we would gain far more nourishment for the soul. Books and authors can shape our lives and decisions far more than newspaper editors. They can also delight and entertain us more than a daily newspaper ever could. Part of the problem ironically is that the fact that we are so time-poor means we just want quick bites of stimulation which the newspapers provide; to get absorbed in a novel takes far more of our time and effort. I think when it comes to news there may be a case for ignorance is bliss, but I would still nevertheless be tempted always to pick up a newspaper.