Embracing ‘ignorance is bliss’ by limiting my news consumption

Front page of the excellent New York Times on a particularly busy news day. I am counting 20 headlines. Credit: The New York Times

From 2017 to early 2019, I was frequently checking the headlines and trying to read as much as possible from all the articles published by the major international technology websites. Examples include, but are not limited to, The Verge, Engadget, TechCrunch, Ars Technica, MacRumors, 9to5Mac, AppleInsider, Android Police, Android Authority, and more. In that period, from 2017 to approximately late-2018, that was a positive hobby, helping me get a high level of knowledge and detailed understanding of what’s happening in tech.

However, I eventually started noticing a shift in what I really wanted to do with my time. I didn’t want to spend many hours a week checking headlines and reading articles anymore. I really just simply lost the sense of positivity around it. It became overwhelming and a little depressing. So I made a major decision: demote the placement of those websites in my bookmarks document. (I write and style my own Word/PDF document of all important websites because I sometimes temporarily switch web browsers that would make browser bookmarking difficult.) I instead placed only websites and links directly relevant to the services and products I use everyday at the top, and placed tech-website links at the bottom of the document. This means I won’t check them unless I need to. And the thing is… I haven’t needed to.

Apple held its annual Worldwide Developers Conference a few days ago, announcing major new operating system versions, new hardware products, and more details on the company’s upcoming projects. Not only did I miss the details about what was announced, I did not even know that the event had happened. I hadn’t seen any stuff about it on my newly-prioritized sites, so I hadn’t thought about it at all.

And you know what… after a 3-minute mental panic of feeling “out of the loop” and having a real “fear of missing out” moment, I reminded myself: “I don’t use a Mac. I don’t use an iPad. I don’t use iCloud. I don’t use an Apple Watch. I don’t use an Apple TV. I don’t subscribe to Apple Music, I don’t buy stuff on iTunes, and I have no plans to subscribe to the TV subscription service I heard about a while back.” I do use an iPhone, but it is my secondary device, used for music listening, capturing photos/videos, and very light web browsing. That’s not enough to spark a major interest in reading everything about it. So I just read the headlines about iOS-specific news from the conference and that was it for now. When the new operating system version, named iOS 13, gets released, I will download and install it, but that’s not until the fall.

It’s now June 2019 and it has been months since I demoted general tech-websites to the bottom of the bookmarks document. Instead, I filled in the top of the document with links to weather forecasts for my area, the blog of my email provider (ProtonMail for those who are curious), the release history and blog for the Firefox web browser, and update history for Windows 10, as well as links to specific Windows-coverage by The Verge, Windows Central, and Windows Latest.

Those are links to the services and products I use and depend on the most. On a daily basis, I simply have no need to learn every detail about Apple TV, a new Android version, or Facebook’s latest data scandal. That’s probably the most controversial sentence in this whole post; deliberately choosing to refrain from learning knowledge and openly embracing ignorance. But hear me out, please, ’cause I’m not leaving this post on that note.

The one, simple conclusion I have drawn from this experience is that “ignorance is bliss” can really be true, in some situations. I tend to worry a lot, even about things that are completely out of my control. For example, if I read a critical story about Facebook, I’ll go to bed later that day feeling bad because I know I cannot do anything to fix the problem singlehandedly.

Negative news stories are good for informing the public about bad things, but worrisome brains like mine don’t need “BIG GIANT HEADLINES ANNOUNCING BAD THINGS HAVE HAPPENED AND WHY YOU SHOULD WORRY ABOUT IT“. By choosing to not read about it, I can go to bed thinking about pleasant things instead, like how cute my dog was in the photos I organized on my hard drives. (This point comes back later in the article, so please keep moving.)

Meet my dog, Balto! Here seen relaxing in his bed.

I am now outdated in my knowledge of some areas of the fast-moving tech world. But it’s actually a mentally-relaxing feeling to pull back from the massive news cycle and focus on what actually directly involves the services I use the most. If something wrong should happen on my iPhone or some other device I use at work, I can research it then. And when I do such research, it opens up all website links, not just the ones I had selectively bookmarked.

So, in light of a better mental health from this experiment, I also decided to do the same to general news. A week ago, I demoted links to both international and Norwegian news in the bookmarks document. But that part did leave me with an uncomfortable feeling in the days since, having absolutely no knowledge of national and international happenings. So instead, I came up with a solution that I am now testing out: Watching the news rather than reading it!

For Norwegian news, I watch the evening broadcast from Norway’s government-owned television station NRK (an approximately 20-minute broadcast). For international news, I watch the American television station MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show (an approximately 45-minute broadcast). Granted, Rachel Maddow is more of an opinionated personality than a objectively-focused news broadcast usually is, but I actually find that part kind of refreshing in a positive way. NRK covers mostly Norwegian stuff, with small segments summarizing international affairs, while Rachel Maddow takes deep-dives into the Trump administration and the United States. Combined, that’s about an hour’s worth of content that has a deliberate ending to each program, which stops the usual flow of distractingly clicking on more and more articles and checking for new headlines.

After that hour is up, I’ve learned about the essential stuff in a little depth. I will still worry about what I have heard, but I haven’t given myself more worries than needed. And here’s where that note from earlier comes up: Facebook didn’t exactly not get covered for its role in spreading fake news and social manipulation during the 2016 United States presidential election. All essential, major stories are covered, either by NRK or by Rachel Maddow (and sometimes both). This means that I do learn what Facebook has done (or not done), and details about other major events. But I’ve only learned a maximum of 1 hour of it a day, compared to 2, 3, or 4 hours of time I used to spend. Every minute adds a little bit of worries, so every minute that can be reduced helps the mental health.

The two best parts of watching video rather than reading articles is 1) the definitive ending, and 2) the multitasking-aspect. I can organize files on my hard drives while watching NRK/Rachel Maddow. Reading requires precise focus on each line of text and websites always recommend other articles. For video, you can always just up the volume for a few minutes while preparing a meal without losing out on information, and news broadcasts have a “Thanks for watching, good night” ending that gives an actual conclusion. Also helps that they usually have fancy graphics and visual depictions.

2 minutes each morning to check the prioritized websites where I have a direct interest, and approximately 7 hours total a week learning the news, compared to who-knows-how-much-time-I-spent before. I still learn about all the major, breaking news events, but I can go to bed each night without worrying any more than strictly necessary. I now have more time for other activities. Like writing this post.

Thanks for reading, good night!

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