Four deaths, three injuries, one rape and a bomb; a pretty intense start to the day by anyone’s standards. No, this is not a character arc in a bad soap scraping the barrel for untapped plot lines, but the sum and total of the top five most popular headlines as I opened the BBC News app for a quick dose of inspiration for this article.
Frankly, as I think the BBC has proven for me, reading the news is a stressful and downright depressing experience, even if you do not fully recognise it as such at the time. A study in the British Journal of Psychology from 1997 proved that negative news stories resulted in sadness, anxiety, and a propensity to “catastrophize” everyday problems after just minutes of exposure. So, with the plethora of platforms available to us now meaning that news is constantly just a click away (and occasionally turning up uninvited), we are all inundated by a torrent of unfilterable and uncontainable data, serving only to flood our minds with distant horrors.
And what is the upside to all of this? Truth be told, I struggle to see any. What, as we float serenely on in the ‘Bubble,’ can any of us actually do about the world’s atrocities, except nod sadly, perhaps criticise a governmental decision or two, and then go back to worrying if the green or blue bin is out for collection this week? The only proof that we ever heard about the latest headline is the residual paranoia and slightly skewed sense of the world left in its wake.
Put another way, if Mrs. What’s-Her-Name next door (whom we likely encounter when putting out the bin of the appropriate colour) were so relentlessly negative, we would avoid her whenever possible for fear of being dragged down into her pessimistic pit, while wondering at her warped mindset. Yet, in willingly following the news, most of us still pop round for a quick catch-up and a biscuit on a daily basis. So why do we persistently welcome negativity into our lives?
The vast majority of reasons seem to stem from societal pressures declaring that we all have a responsibility to engage with both global and local events. However, this disregards each individual’s duty to ensure their own wellbeing and happiness which, as we have seen above, is damaged by such engagement. It replaces the promise of a healthy, valuable asset to society with an all-absorbing mental list of international traumas too remote to be fully comprehended.
The ‘it’s your duty to be informed’ argument is similarly popular and carries more weight as far as elections are concerned. However, as long as voters take the trouble to track down relevant information on issues that matter to them, filtering out the dismal and the dire, what real harm can come of avoiding the news? If anything, the firmer grip of the day-to-day (minus the “catastrophizing” effect) afforded by such a plan replaces generally irrelevant information with practical understanding. Thus, counter-intuitively, the intentionally ignorant arguably become equally, if not better, informed of the mundane and banal everyday of our secure lifestyle.
This illogical worship of information for information’s sake carries over into the widely lauded end result of a ‘broadened worldview’, as though news was not, by OED definition, principally restricted to the especially “important or interesting” stories made intentionally emotive to keep a business alive. Consequently, every sorrow, suffering, and breath of scandal that sustains our monstrous media slowly saps our empathy until the desensitisation is complete, and we can seemingly be considered informed and valuable members of society.
On a practical level, that news story about a new school opening is not going to distort your perception of reality, and there will always be those who need or want to be informed. I, for one, would quite like our Prime Minister and possibly our IR students to have at least a vague grasp of global affairs, but is scrolling through the infallibly endless pages of Trump, missiles, and tragic accidents really helping the majority of us live a better or more fulfilling life?
So, while I could not possibly think any less of you for occasionally being coaxed back to the fold by earth-shattering headlines like “RSPCA called to rescue lizard that turns out to be a sock” (and yes, this really happened), humour me. Try avoiding the news for a while and see if it leaves behind as vast an aching void as you think… except The Saint. Keep reading that.