The news: What we miss when we’re well informed


This article first appeared on The Big Smoke:

In the same way that we enthusiastically embark on a huge bowl of Christmas-related dessert then begin to grieve for the dessert upon noticing it’s nearly all consumed, we try to remain calm about the impending end to the Christmas holiday period, letting the days melt in our mouths, rather than mindlessly chewing and swallowing.

The first few days of an extended holiday are the very best and the worst of times. You might be reeling from the enormity of what has taken place throughout the year, or fighting leisure sickness (yes, that’s a thing). We value holidays, but perhaps we value our time spent working more than once thought. Workplaces provide humans with routine and safety that are manufactured by the expectations laid out by an employer. As people walk away and into unstructured environments for an extended period, internal chaos ensues as they struggle to remember who they are, external to the confines of the workplace.

This existential crisis can manifest in all kinds of psychological and physiological symptoms that fit the criteria of leisure sickness. Holidays, once spent to recharge the batteries, are turning into a minefield of psychologically induced physical illnesses.

Depending on your profession, a sudden absence of ubiquitous activities will probably trigger something adversary. These holidays, I smacked head first into mine: the news.

In helping professions like mine, the personal and political are inseparable, and there is an unwritten obligation for one to keep abreast of news on local, domestic and international policy that may impact marginalised populations.

However, exhausted, these holidays I thought, “Fuck it.” No news. No writing about the news, no talking about the news. No listening, watching or reading of the news.

I am an avid radio listener, so I couldn’t help but hear short news bulletins from time to time (I found that it’s actually a bit of a struggle to avoid the news) but after a few days I noticed that I had a lot more time to think about things, which is when my version of leisure sickness tried to creep in. My anxiety deeply intensified; I wondered, with what do I fill the gaps that the absence of the news left in my life?

As Alain de Botton writes, the insidious buzz of the news has crept into the subconscious, and now, we are at a frightening point where self-congratulations are in order when we can conduct an undistracted conversation with a friend, or fall asleep, or observe the state of the weather within our own heads.

People report the intense connection with reality experienced during Vipassanā meditation to be quite confronting, and the experience of being without the news is perhaps a secular equivalent.

After getting past the initial discomfort of feeling the need to fill time, I fell into a peaceful rhythm of reading books, beach walking, sitting, breathing and napping. I spent a lot of quality time catching up with friends, some that I hadn’t seen for over a year, and I felt utterly present during each meeting.

It was a rude awakening to be asked my opinion on several breaking news stories a couple of days ago, and it was only then that I realised how much I didn’t miss any of it. How little it added to my way of being in the world.

As I prepare to return to work next week, I’m ready to re-engage with the news, as it will be required of me to do so. And I’m okay with that, but I will be engaging with it quite differently to last year. As de Botton illustrates:

“For all their talk of education, modern societies neglect to examine by far the most influential means by which their populations are educated (…) the more potent and ongoing kind of education takes place on the airwaves and on our screens.”

And whilst we remain under the primary tutelage of the news, we are potentially missing out on precious educational experiences to be had through communication with self, friends, family members, animals, the environment and people in the wider community.

Being aware of every humanitarian disaster that is unfolding around the world divides attention rather than enhances a solution focus, and the more time spent worrying about things reduces the time spent solving said problems.


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