Keeping up with the news

It’s so easy to spread yourself thin these modern times… You’ve got news up the wazoo, 24×7, from a gazillion sources. On top of that, you’ve got blogs, with experts expounding on the virtues of this and that, and why it should matter to you, and you’ve got feeds of all sorts you can subscribe to, and podcasts you can listen to, and videos you can watch on these humongous video sites like YouTube and Google Video and Revver and plenty more. If that’s not enough, you can watch tens, if not hundreds, of TV channels, and the programming variety just boggles the mind.

Trouble is, most of this is garbage, and you can’t keep up with all of it. As addictive as it is to read a ridiculous amount of news, and be at the top of the game on many subjects, it’s wearisome, stressful and exhausting. It’s not seldom that I found myself bleary-eyed and listless after catching up on the news these past several years. And yet, I still didn’t learn my lesson, and wanted more, more, more. Well, you can’t have it all. It’s humanly impossible to stay plugged into many sources at once, and expect to get anything else done. You end up becoming part of the pipe, unable to contribute, overwhelmed by the information, receptive but useless, a consumer, not a producer.

I suppose if that’s all you want to be, that’s fine, but I’d rather make content, not consume it. I want to leave a mark, not go through life eating, sleeping and watching TV or reading the news. More than that, and I suppose on a more basic level as well, I want to get some work done, not waste my day away. So, for the umpteenth time, I’ve come to the realization that I need to cut down on my news addiction. It’s good to stay informed, but it’s better to stay alert. And it’s even better to get my plans accomplished. Which for me includes work, consulting, photography and blogging on weekdays. On weekends, more consulting, photography and blogging, reviews and sometimes, podcasts. And somewhere in there, I’ve got to squeeze in downtime with my lovely wife and a movie then and now. Not to mention that I’ve got other projects waiting on the back burner.

The thing is, reading the news in itself doesn’t take that much time. At most, it takes one to one and half hours per day. I don’t think that’s a lot of time. But, it IS a lot of information. And information processing wears you down, particularly when it comes from many sources. If you don’t believe me, try picking up a few tens of books, and rapid-read a few pages from each. See how you feel at the end of that little power session! When we read the news, it’s the same thing. We don’t notice it these days because it’s so easy to subscribe to a ridiculous number of various sources in news or feed readers. They aggregate all of that content for us in one place, and we just browse through and read. But it’s all written by different people, on different subjects, in different styles, with differing levels of emotion. Our brain has to adapt to each style of writing and process all of that information in a short amount of time.

Add to that the emotion we spend if we get worked up about an article. I’m guilty of that a lot. If I read someone’s getting abused somewhere, I’ll get mad at that injustice. Some days that anger will affect me for more than half a days, and truth be told, there isn’t a darned thing I can do to help that person or people other than share that article with my friends or on my blog. The amount of help that provides is questionable and depends on the situations. Some are helped by more media attention, and some aren’t. So what’s the good of getting worked up over them? I don’t know. I do know I can’t help it, so the only way for me to stay focused on what I need to do is to avoid those articles. Otherwise, I end up shooting myself in the foot and I can’t meet my goals.

So while it’s not about the time, although it’s nice to gain an extra hour here and there, it’s about the effect of the news on you or me. That’s why I’ve already started to pare down on the amount of news sources I read. I’ve cut a few out today, and will continue to cut them down till I arrive at a good balance between quality of information and time spent reading it. And I encourage you to do the same. Don’t think I hold myself immune from this. If you find that I don’t add value to your day, then unsubscribe. Far be it from me to waste your time and keep you from doing something useful.

Here’s to a productive use of our time here on earth, brief as it is!