In this excellent article in The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman writes that “for a certain segment of the population, the news has come to fill up more and more time – and, more subtly, to occupy centre stage in our subjective sense of reality, so that the world of national politics and international crises can feel more important, even more truly real, than the concrete immediacy of our families, neighbourhoods and workplaces. It’s not simply that we spend too many hours glued to screens. It’s that for some of us, at least, they have altered our way of being in the world such that the news is no longer one aspect of the backdrop to our lives, but the main drama.”
I highly recommend the entire article, but here are some snippets: He writes “To live with a part of your mind perpetually in the world of the news, exposed to an entire planet’s worth of mendacity and suffering, railing against events too vast for any individual to alter, is to feel what Greenfield, author of the book Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, calls “a low-grade sense of panic and loss of control”, so normal it has come to feel routine … Perhaps you have felt that ridiculous yet discernible pressure, on social media, to emit an official opinion about every natural disaster, celebrity death or Trump administration policy announcement, as if each of us were the ambassador of a small nation, from whom silence might be interpreted as callous lack of concern.”
He correctly observes that news isn’t reality; it distorts our views of reality. He writes that “A functioning public sphere also depends on collective access to a shared body of facts about reality, to serve as the stable ground on which to hash out our differences of opinion. But with such an enormous surplus of information, filtered on the basis of what compels each user’s attention, that shared basis of facts is soon eroded. Meanwhile, the algorithms of social media invisibly sort us into ever more separate communities of ever more similar people, so that even if you are discussing, say, movies or sport, you’re increasingly likely to be doing so with those who share your political affiliations; the more you engage with politics, the more everything becomes political – and, research suggests, the harder it becomes to understand your political opponents as fully human. This is a situation ripe for exploitation by demagogues, who understand that their power consists in turning the whole of life into a battleground divided along political lines, thereby maximising their domination of public attention.” Demagogues? Trump?
Finally, “This raises a possibility alien to news addicts, committed political activists and journalists alike: that we might owe it not only to our sanity, but also to the world at large, to find a way to put the news back in its place.”