If you’ve been actively surfing social media and keeping tabs on the latest happenings from these past couple of months, we can both probably agree that 2020 has been an “eventful” year to say the very least. That being said, keeping up with the latest happenings gets super exhausting after a while. In this year alone, we pretty much went from rampant bush fires, the possibility of an all-out war, riots, a global pandemic, even more lies in politics (never a surprise), and even the apparent rise of institutional racism. The world is practically falling apart as we know it, but here’s a short piece on staying sane in the craziest of times.
In 2013, Swiss author Rolf Dobelli stood in front of a group of journalists and told them that he didn’t read the news for a good reason. Dobelli then went on to write a manifesto about the dangers of what he describes as “the most toxic form of keeping up with information” – in other words, keeping tabs with the latest news. In his book, he highlights what this does to the human mind, especially pointing out what the flashy headlines do to our concentration and well-being.
In mid May this year, a study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that people in the UK were increasingly avoiding news consumption as the pandemic continues to dominate headlines.
Results showed that many participants did so for several reasons similar to which Dobelli points out in his manifesto. However, in an advanced interconnected world where pretty much anything happens at any given moment – simply “avoiding” the news entirely, is almost impossible.
Not-so-breaking news: Everything around us is weird and it’s only getting weirder
You might be like me: someone who reads every update from whatever news source you follow and suddenly feels the most woke in your friend group because you somehow know everything happening around the world. Or maybe you’re someone who – just like the Brits involved in the Reuters study, have only just recently started avoiding the news for all the same reasons. But you could also be someone like my girlfriend, who just isn’t and hasn’t ever been the “newsy type of person”. Whichever one you see yourself being more, in a time of such ambiguity, we’ve come to the belief that it’s never been more important to always stay informed. Especially when all sorts of vital information changes rapidly over time and when we have the luxury of having it all given to us within a few taps of a finger.
Be that as it may, it’s that level of constant connectivity and availability of media that can make things so overwhelming. Even after the days – that felt like years – of quarantine, I’ll personally find myself mindlessly scrolling on Twitter or Instagram for an unnecessary amount of time. The very act itself is pretty much ingrained in my daily routine at this point and I’m definitely not alone. Subconsciously dragging my feed down as if it’s some sort of slot machine at a casino and looking out for any updates while I pretty much go through my day. And if you didn’t know, 2020 provided us with a new term especially for this: “doomscrolling”.
To give you an idea of just how profound this information overload can be, from the moment I woke up and to the point of which I finished breakfast, I scrolled enough to know that: Corona cases back home continue to rise, Kanye West announced that he’d be running for US president, some new strand of virus was recently discovered in China, Brexit still continues to be the worst idea ever, and most importantly: this Dutch ‘cow cuddling’ wellness program is finally getting the recognition it deserves. In one Thursday morning alone, I scrolled enough to come to the realisation that life is pretty much getting weirder by the day. And honestly, we might not always need to be reminded of that. That, or I just follow such dynamic Twitter accounts.
“The fortunate among us have recognized the hazards of living with an overabundance of food and have started to shift our diets.
But most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what sugar is to the body.”
Switching off: is it really okay?
I’ll often find myself in a bit of a dilemma. Is it actually okay to just simply “disconnect” and not keep up with all the things happening in the world? As clichéd as it might sound, it just didn’t make sense to simply look the other way when anti-racist movements erupt all over the world for example. Or to go through the day without paying attention to the fact that COVID-19 cases back home continue to rise as the government reopens a fragile economy.
Before all the horrible shit started happening, the appropriate response might have been a “yes, it’s totally okay. Why wouldn’t it be?”. With that, why is it so difficult to do so now? Well it’s imperative to note that we’re basically hardwired to seek any form of reassurance in stressful times. In fact, studies suggest that anxiety (no matter how subtle it is) subconsciously urges you to seek for more information to relieve that said anxiety in the first place.
Finding your personal “information overload tipping point”
It’s never as straightforward as any “mindfulness” blog might describe it to be, but putting yourself to some sort of a “media-intake-restriction” might just be one of the most effective ways to find your limit when it comes to the content you take in. I decided to give it a shot for a few days and finally disabled the “push notifications” from all the news source apps I have installed on my phone for a starter.
To add to that, I also tried avoiding social media during the day. Instead, I forced myself to only scroll through in the mornings and evenings to get a proper update of the latest happenings – whilst remembering to only look into the headlines or articles that actually mattered.
It’s safe to say that my own “information overload tipping point” was still yet to have been found. But being in control of the updates I particularly want to look into, did somehow help provide myself a better perspective into matters that could well affect me – and those of which that really didn’t. For example, when it came to updates about the pandemic, it was quite fresh to click on more factual and less “dooms-day vibe” type of pieces. Yes, they exist.
It’s especially crucial to have this control during a time when the majority of news is being built on scaremongering or sensationalism than it is to better inform the public. And if that’s not enough to encourage you to take more of a conscious approach on picking out which news to read, two Dutch researchers conducted a study to understand how consuming news (particularly those with a negative connotation) can leave harmful effects on us.
The world’s weird, but you’re alright
While it’s super important to stay informed in times like these, it’s even more important to always look after your well being. Taking the right steps in making sure that you’re keeping up with the latest updates and keeping your head in the right place while you’re at it could make a monumental difference in how you continue to carry out your days.
Limit your social media intake, read things about other topics, take a walk, write, all the good little distractions that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ignoring the things happening around you. Rather, a reminder that despite your timeline telling you all the horrible shit going on, the world keeps spinning nonetheless.