Don’t turn on the news, it’ll only get you down

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Picture: Surabhi Desai

My personal obsession with the news started young with an insistence on watching BBC Breakfast every morning before school for at least half an hour in order to garner some idea of what was going on in the world. It has grown to the extent that I now start and finish every day with the Guardian app, and in between skip from The New York Times to the Telegraph websites and back to seek as many stories as possible. Rolling live blogs covering elections are to me what white nominees are to The Oscars or being an oleaginous git is to Ted Cruz.

I know that I’m not alone. Our proverbial ‘globalised world’ with its equally cliché ‘24-hour media’ has made large swathes of us in the UK and beyond complete addicts to current affairs. Scrolling down my Facebook page assures me that I’m not the only one indefatigably sharing articles. One of my old English teachers at school was wont to lament the ubiquity of news and advocate complete abstinence from it for the sake of personal sanity. However he, like many other people who speak out against prevailing currents and the thirst for information, has gone unheeded by his former pupils. My friends with whom I shared that class are just as likely as me to keep one eye fixed on their news website of choice.

Imagine my shock when I sat down at the Viewpoint writers’ meeting, bereft of ideas for an article and relying on some relatively eye-opening morsel of news to subsequently chew upon, only to find out that no such story existed. As far as we knew at that point, with all the students having just returned from their winter breaks and the stories such as Bob Lambert’s and Louise Richardson’s departures (one somewhat more edifying than the other) covered sufficiently, nothing of note had happened. Maybe the content of The Saint today has since proved this wrong, something which would definitely draw a sigh of relief from my lips.

However, out of this void of events has come this article, an ultimately reflective piece that doesn’t glibly critique one particular thing or tie itself down to a certain occasion. Instead, it leads to the exploration of a broader theme which the vast majority of us in the West experience on a daily basis to varying degrees. In this void I have been able to take a good hard look at my own expression of a trait of our collective lifestyle- a dependence on constant news at all levels to chat about and comment upon- and explore just how healthy it may be.

One thing that has struck me is just how personally constructive it is. Because nothing has really happened, there is time focus on existing information out there and to evaluate that properly against our own values and worldviews. It is incredibly easy, when faced with a deluge of new events pouring in from every direction, to immediately categorise them all into established boxes without much due consideration. X immediately goes into the box labelled “St Andrews is failing poorer students” without so much as a second glance at the headline whereas in a flash Y finds itself amongst all the other stories labelled “Golf is a waste of time”. Maybe, on closer inspection, X and Y do belong in these boxes, but until you are sure of it all you have succeeded in doing is reinforcing an echo chamber dictated by previous opinions. No news affords you the opportunity to do a bit of an intellectual spring clean and to begin to sort through the clutter of these different views.

Secondly, and more viscerally, no news is kind of reassuring in a town like St Andrews in a nation like the UK. Sure, things are far from perfect wherever you go- and this corner of this country is no exception- but in the grand scheme of things we live in a safe, prosperous and free environment where the majority of people are polite and respectful. To wake up and find out that nothing has happened means that nothing has changed, that it is a day to get out and focus on other things and not worry about a new dimension to the ‘housing crisis’ or another cut to student funding. It is a day to enjoy the remarkable town in which we live.

Maybe I wouldn’t be able to hack this ‘no news’ lifestyle. In all probability, I doubt anyone studying at a university with such an international and academic perspective like St Andrews would be able to. We are creatures who thrive off stuff happening because we crave the fodder for our voracious intellectual appetites. However, just this one day is perhaps the day that we follow my dear former English teacher’s remonstrations and ditch the madness of the news for the serenity of the immediate surroundings we so often overlook.

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