Sunday, May 19, 2013

Bad news

I'm not going to stop being a news junkie, but I have to admit there's a heckuva lot of truth in Dobelli's essay on the uselessness of news. According to him:
  • News misleads. 
  • News is irrelevant.
  • News has no explanatory power. 
  • News is toxic to your body.
  • News increases cognitive errors.
  • News inhibits thinking.
  • News works like a drug.
  • News wastes time.
  • News makes us passive.
  • News kills creativity.
The irony is, you have to be reading this news in order to find out the news is bad for you.

UPDATE (05.21.2013): I've been giving this article some more thought.  Why is it wrong, or at least, not entirely right? First, because of bloggers like me who do try to process and analyze the news.  This activity is not passive and it does involve thinking. 

Second, you could probably apply some of these same criticisms to reading literature or even a lot of popular non-fiction. Or just reading. I mean, nobody ever got rich reading Joyce or Nabokov.  It's hard to say how The Great Gatsby is relevant to my life.  And yet literature enriches the soul and deepens our understanding of and empathy with our fellow man.  Reading news can do the same, if we let it.  I mean, as a human being I think it's important to know, for example, when people elsewhere are suffering, and why.  It's important to crawl out of our own skin once in a while. This world isn't all about our own personal happiness, after all. 

Third, reading the news makes you a more interesting, engaging person. It least it makes me more interesting.  During just about any conversation I'll recall something I've read in the news.  I don't always bring it up, but I have the choice.  Now, I may sound like a liberal snob, but if a group of people around you are discussing, say, the civil war in Syria, and you have no clue what's going on there, do you really think they're going to think you're very smart?  I guess a certain type of person could take pride in not following the news; but then he ought to be extra clever when it comes to other things.  Otherwise he's just a willfully ignorant bore.  

Fourth, there's that whole Fourth Estate thing: you know, that myth that tough, brave journalism is necessary for a democratic polity to work.  If you think that democratic politics matters, and that you have an obligation to be part of it, then information matters.  Nowadays the news is more likely to mislead and offer us zero context, I admit, but it is still possible to find good information.  (If I could explain how to judge good information from bad, believe me, I would. I'd write a primer on it for my mom and Republican friends.) 

Without good information we have... only personal experience and anecdotal evidence with which to make judgments about the world around us... which is exactly what conservatives do. Yes, they seek confirmation in the news for their biases, but they usually seek out the anecdotal.  They seek out the journalistic equivalent of talking to one's buddy or barber. Whereas we liberals do rely on journalists to bring us empirical facts and statistics with which we make informed judgments.

By Rolf Dobelli
April 12, 2013 | Guardian

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