I came across an essay in The Guardian the other day that piqued my interest. The Guardian is a British newspaper that identifies itself with “social liberalism.” The essay was entitled “News Is Bad for You” and it was written by Rolf Dobelli, who is described in Wikipedia as a “Swiss novelist, thinker, entrepreneur, and student of the social sciences.”
Dobelli believes reading or watching the news everyday is bad for us. He objects primarily to the way the news is presented: in “small bites of trivial matter” which he calls “bright colored candy for the mind.” The daily news give us a distorted view of the world, he says. Take for example our concept of what constitutes risk. Because of the daily news we fear terrorism when we should fear chronic stress and obesity more.
The news inhibits thinking, says Dobelli, because thinking requires concentration, and concentration requires uninterrupted time. He also believes the news makes us passive since most news stories are about things we “cannot influence.” The news also contributes to “a pessimistic and even fatalistic world view.” Dobelli confesses he has gone without the daily news for four years now. He acknowledges, however, that he regularly reads longer journal articles. For the rest of his news he relies on his friends to tell him what is happening in the world.
The Guardian ran a response to Dobelli’s essay by their associate editor Madeleine Bunting. She admits the daily news can contribute to “mental clutter.” She also concedes that “as we become pros at skimming and multitasking, we run the risk of retaining less and less.” But that’s the fault not of the news itself but of the form in which it is ordinarily delivered—those “small bites” Dobelli refers to.
But Bunting believes to be ignorant of what is happening in the world is a dangerous thing. First, it makes our world very small. Secondly it denies us “the collective understanding that news sustains and inspires.” She believes to cut ourselves off from the news is to cut ourselves “off from life.” Bunting maintains that we have a “responsibility to know the world and the age in which (we) live.” This responsibility lies at the heart of democracy. She also reminds us that “the first casualty of totalitarianism” is always the news.
What do you think? Do you watch/read/listen to/surf the news every day? Does the news depress you? Does it ever inspire you?
Here are a few of my random thoughts.
1. Our Christian faith calls us to love one another, that is, to be concerned for others—both those within and outside of our immediate little world. I think a certain amount of awareness of the larger world is vital for our faith. At the prayers of the faithful at Mass, for example, we pray for our own needs, yes, but we also pray for the needs of our world community. These needs are often gleaned from the daily news.
2. Yes, there seem to be some things we cannot influence. But there are some things we can influence. We can influence our city hall, legislatures, and Congress. We can advocate for policies based on the innate worth of every person. And remember what St. John of the Cross said: “Where there is no love put love, and you will find love.” I may not be able to do anything directly about the violence in Nigeria, but I can be a loving and non-violent person in my daily interactions with others. I can also “influence” the world by my prayer.
2. We must remember that the news we experience does not necessarily reflect all of reality. The news media often focus on what’s wrong. That’s part of their job. The news may report that two parents abused their child. That’s terrible! But there are millions of parents raising their children with love, patience, and great self-sacrifice. That’s wonderful–but it probably won’t be in the news!
3. Knowing the news is never a substitute for living and loving.
5. I think it all comes down to moderation. Does getting the news mean more to me than fulfilling my responsibilities, interacting with people, and enjoying life?
In all of this, I recall that the word gospel means good news. With that in mind, I am concluding this reflection with a song that I feel captures the essence of the good news of the gospel. It’s called “We Believe” and it’s performed by the Newsboys (what an appropriate name!), a Christian rock group I personally like. If the regular daily news ever wears us down, maybe we have to recall the basic tenets of our Christian faith as expressed in this song: