The News as Entertainment

A Danish iOS developer that I follow on Twitter retweeted about corona case numbers being undercounted in Nebraska. As far as I know he has no connections to the US in general or Nebraska in particular.

I’ve seen more of this lately: people following news that has absolutely no connection to their lives. This is often at the exclusion of being involved in the news and politics that would actually affect their lives such as the local school board, city council meetings or the weather — using myself as an example, I’ve been filled with righteous outrage after reading about Trump all night and then forgotten to take an umbrella with me to work.

Stepping back from this hasn’t been easy for me. I’m a former news junkie, obsessed with politics and would mindlessly swap a night of sleep for r/politics.

A higher level view is that in the English-speaking world, news has become entertainment. It’s what people talk about. You show that you are educated and care about the world by repeating the current headlines.

The way I’ve been recovering — which is the right word — is developing other hobbies and interests. Instead of doom-scrolling all evening, I listen to a podcast that has nothing to do with current events or work. I’ve been reading more books, talking to more friends, taking more bike rides and walks. Now the news is positively boring.

Other perspectives

Oliver Burkman’s the news ≠ your life is the best short read on this topic.

Sometime around the one-two punch of Brexitandtrump™, I started to notice in myself – and even more in certain friends – a tendency I’ve only ever managed to describe, in an awkward metaphor, as “living inside the news.” It was as if more and more people were shifting their psychological centre of gravity, so the news was somehow realer to them than the concrete world of their work, family and friends. I don’t just mean that they were “spending too much time online” or “addicted to social media” (although they were, and we are). I mean that the realm of presidencies, referendums and humanitarian crises had become the main drama of their daily lives, with their actual daily lives relegated to the status of a sideshow.

The Brexitandtrump hit me. Really great diagnostic of the problem.

I was reading an article about information architecture and this random bit was in there:

Election night is like Super Bowl Sunday for If well executed, it’s one of the highest revenue nights in a four-year cycle. To add to the pressure, we were on a tight timeline with a deadline that was not going to budge. November 6th or bust.

There’s something fundamentally wrong with and election being the biggest commercial and entertainment event. This automatically shifts the focus from a disinterested reporting of what happened to a sensationalist circus.

I’m reading through Why the Dutch are Different, which is a fascinating look at the Dutch:

Years after the pillars crumbled, the emphasis in Dutch politics remained very much on what political scientists called the ‘politics of accommodation’, with little space for consensus-shattering Thatchers or Reagans to challenge the equilibrium.

As a recovering political hack, I was routinely amazed by the lack of political rancour around even the most controversial issues in the Netherlands. Coverage of politics on Dutch television was limited, and most cabinet ministers could walk down the street not only unguarded but completely unnoticed. It was exceedingly rare to hear a Dutch person express a strong opinion about any political issue, and unusual to hear current affairs discussed in a bar or over dinner…Vigorous political protest or public rallying was almost unheard of, and at election time many people were genuinely unsure who to vote for – perhaps because coalition governments meant it was impossible to be sure a party would deliver on its promises. The choice available to voters seemed overwhelming: at the 2014 European elections, no fewer than 19 parties were listed on the ballot sheet, with a combined 345 candidates competing for just 26 seats. Even if the Prime Minister gave a major speech about a contentious issue – immigration, say – the response from most of his political opponents would be polite agreement, with perhaps a few mild suggestions for improvement. The next day newspapers would report the speech on perhaps page seven, in a brief column summarising what was said, with little opinionising or speculation about its impact on his political future. People generally thought that politicians were decent and hard-working, and free from the taint of corruption or self-interest.

Boring is glorious.