"Read not the Times. Read the Eternities.", Thoreau wrote. At first, I thought this was where you were going with this essay. A call to disengage with the affairs of humans, perhaps. Happily, you brought it around to a more productive way to engage and spend what time is given us. Thanks for that.
I read the evening paper next to my father, on the sofa, every evening. Some of my fondest memories. He worked for newspapers his entire life and I followed in his footsteps, working in media my entire career (business side). What do I remember most about what I consumed daily? Not the news, that was secondary. I remember Mike Royko and Sydney J Harris. And sports. We talked about what Royko gifted us that day, we marveled at the brilliance of Sydney J Harris and we talked Chicago sports. My wife and I gave up all tv news almost one year ago. Best decision ever. I will never go back. Where are the Royko’s, Breslin’s and Caen’s? That is what I long to revisit. Meaningful connections, that’s what I miss.
I've never thought about it in such elaborative way. Thanks for this Sarah, will definitely save me tons of time!
Thanks for this essay. I truly enjoyed reading the newspaper as a kid, and I think I got good things out of it, but something has changed, and in the past year I’ve started reading less news. In part, I’m much more aware of how much (more or less innocently) wrong information there is, but I think it’s goes deeper than that.
When I read the news now, the primary impression is of a world gone mad. There are big problems like coronavirus and war, but no one knows what to do about them. A million cults bloom as people seek answers, but it’s mostly false confidence. Government design is thoroughly obsolete yet the news reports on scandals as individual events.
But, in my close network, things seem fine, and people mainly carry on as usual. Same when I travel and interact with different people.
For me, the entire public sphere, including the press, has become alienating. In private life, people often know who you are, they talk to you like a person, and will listen if you talk back. Broadcast news now feels like a one-way pipe filled by people who only loosely share my values and concerns. News services have adapted somewhat l and I think they strike a more modest tone than they used to, but discussion is strident. Also, news is stories but the world can be understood only so much through stories — maybe society is so complex now that nothing like a traditional news service can make sense of it.
You also touch on WEIRD perfectionism, where not being fully informed is a loss of status. I don’t know what to say about that yet, but it reminds me of the early American culture of the gentleman (only people who don’t have to work are fit to lead). That proved unsustainable (too hard to stay rich in a dynamic economy as an absentee landlord, I gather), and high-status WEIRD people have low fertility today, so the news-and-education elite might not last either.
Thanks Sarah love reading you keep it up.
Been trying to avoid the news/social media complex for around 2 years now. It's a very good thing, creating space for stuff in my life I care about in a much more healthy and durable way. However it's incredible and annoying how easily you can get sucked back in. Like even reading this sub stack feels like it could be a gateway drug lol, but I love this sub stack!
I think that the critical factor in imbibing “news” is to have it filtered by time & distance - which are two sides of a single coin. That coin has been obliterated by electronic and now digital communications systems. One result has been that “breaking news” has driven out what I think of as “slow” or “deep” news.
It helps to realize that breaking news is actually gossip. Even if it is really true, do you really need to know it?
The problem is how to find slow/deep news. One way, which you have identified, is to stop reading, listening or watching what is presented as news, and let it filter its way down to you from your friends.
Another is to find sources of slow news on places like Substack, but the problem is to be aware of their biases.
My own list of substack sources include https://astralcodexten.substack , https://greenwald.substack.com , https://thezvi.substack.com , https://yourlocalepidemiologist.substack and https://theline.substack.com
I do read the Wall Street Journal, but only the weekend edition, which at least gives me a 6 day time filter and some degree of deep journalism. I also subscribe to the New York Times, but never read any of their political news articles since I regard their journalism, long or short, as untrustworthy since they are so clearly practitioners of advocacy journalism. Unfortunately, their politics seems to seep into the rest of the paper so you have to be careful…
And I have a terrific source of news filtering, which is my wife, who thoroughly reads the Chicago Tribune every day & tells me anything worth knowing, which generally is one or two articles a week (and the comics). Neither of us pays any attention to radio or television news.