So I’ll start this as an update on the media fast I had attempted starting last December. I’ve still been successful avoiding the variety of what I would term manipulative and/or sensationalistic news sources that I used to read regularly. These news sources were across the ideological spectrum: left, right, and “mainstream.”
But part of the reason I’ve found it relatively easy to keep most of these sites out of my regular online diet is because they are often filled with intrusive and/or frankly disgusting ads (of the literal “here is a picture of an ass infected with parasites” variety).
It has not been so easy to avoid Twitter and Facebook trending topics, the former of which I will still definitely check multiple times a day.
The unhealthy thing about this is that it is clear to me that 75% of the reason I keep checking those topics is not for actual news value, but for reasons including an addiction to schadenfreude, anxious boredom, anxious anxiousness, and a perverse desire to retraumatize myself with disturbing information.
This will then send me down a rabbit hole consisting of the collective Twitter user braintrust—including bots, shills, trolls, and other bored and/or anxious and/or traumatized individuals.
A phenomenon I’ve noticed, highlighted by the social media trending topics, is that of a cascading schedule of “scandals” unfurled by the media literally across the entire day. I’m particularly thinking of one day in particular that started with the news of the “Fire and Fury” Trump book, and proceeded to have overlapping scandals of every variety fill the rest of the “schedule.” At least 3-5, maybe even as much as 8, additional major scandals.
This is not to criticize the idea of scandalous news stories that release information to the public on things like the President apparently preferring immigrants from Nordic countries, false ballistic missile alarms, and the entertainment/media sexual assaulter/rapist of the day.
We need to know these things…but it is also a matter of how much we take in, how we take it in, the quality of the news sources, figuring out concrete ways to empower ourselves & others in the face of such disheartening information, and so on and so on.
We cannot absorb news passively.
For me personally, I have to balance Revelations with my mental health. I have to balance Rabbit Hole Diving with my mental health. I have no doubt that many of the ever-increasingly grotesque horror stories contained in the Hollywood gossip site Crazy Days And Nights are true—but I do not always have the stomach to deal with them. (The one particular story rumored to be about late “Poltergeist” child actress Heather O’Rourke pretty much did me in)
Now we can move from these sites into flat-out conspiracy websites, message boards, and so on. Or even “leaked” documents, conspiracy-type info on mainstream sites, etc.
No matter what your “poison” and/or passion regarding these subjects, you still need to have that balance. You cannot absorb that “news” passively, in the naive belief that because this is not the hated mainstream media, somehow everything you are being told does not require scrutiny. And you cannot utterly surround yourself with this type of information without also letting in the other side of the picture—that there are good people going good things and that sometimes, good things happen.
This is pretty much why Talking Heads frontman David Byrne is starting a website literally about good news, Reasons To Be Cheerful. And this is why I try to include a couple of encouraging life-coaching and/or spiritual posts every week; I’m trying to do my tiny part to counter the net amount of negative media content out there. I figure that if even just 5 people read those posts and get something out of them…at least it is something.
As we go out there being adventurous truth-seekers, we need to keep the warning of late sci-fi author Philip K. Dick in mind. Dick often felt like he was indeed being targeted by the U.S. government and other shadowy groups for harassment. His home office and file cabinet had gotten broken into, he received strange messages in the mail, and so on.
But several times, Dick noted that these nefarious—and perhaps very real—conspirators really couldn’t hurt him the way he hurt himself. That his own paranoia would do him in more effectively than any secret society or intelligence agent could; and that indeed, maybe those persons knew that and were just sitting back and watching Dick’s mind destroy itself without any heavy lifting on their part.
That might have sounded like a very extreme example. But the gist of it is—we need to pay attention to what we let into our head. We need to be very conscious of what we allow ourselves to focus on; what the majority of our time is spent focusing on.
How did I feel letting myself go through those social media/trending-topic rabbit holes? Mostly, really awful. A very marked negative change in my mood. And yet we cannot protect our minds from everything; we need to be informed. Injustices need to be addressed.
Everything with balance and awareness.