I don’t read a whole lot of news. In fact, the only consistent source of news I consume is a daily brief from Quartz1. There are two quotes—one new and one old—that explain my habit of not staying up to date on the latest headlines.
The first comes from Robert Dobelli in a piece titled, Avoid News:
Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses that steal attention for their own purposes. News makes us shallow thinkers. But it’s worse than that. News severely affects memory. There are two types of memory. Long-range memory’s capacity is nearly infinite, but working memory is limited to a certain amount of slippery data. The path from short-term to long-term memory is a choke-point in the brain, but anything you want to understand must pass through it. If this passageway is disrupted, nothing gets through. Because news disrupts concentration, it weakens comprehension. Online news has an even worse impact. In a 2001 study two scholars in Canada showed that comprehension declines as the number of hyperlinks in a document increases. Why? Because whenever a link appears, your brain has to at least make the choice not to click, which in itself is distracting. News is an intentional interruption system.2
The second comes from C.S. Lewis in an autobiography titled, Surprised by Joy. This perspective is very intriguing because it’s context is rooted in the flood of wartime news in England during the Second World War:
No doubt, even if the attitude was right, the quality in me which made it so easy to adopt is somewhat repellent. yet. Even so, I can hardly regret having escaped the appalling waste of time and spirit which would have been involved in reading the war news or taking more than an artificial and formal part in conversations about the war. To read without military knowledge or good maps accounts of fighting which were distorted before they reached the Divisional general and further distorted before they left him and then “written up” out of all recognition by journalists, to strive to master what will be contradicted the next day, to fear and hope intensely on shaky evidence, is surely an ill use of the mind. Even in peacetime I think those are very wrong who say that schoolboys should be encouraged to read the newspapers. Nearly all that a boy reads there in his teens will be known before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance. Most of what he remembers he will therefore have to unlearn; and he will probably have acquired a taste for vulgarity and sensationalism and the fatal habit of fluttering from paragraph to paragraph to learn how an acres has been divorced in California, a train derailed in France, and quadruplets born in New Zealand.3
1. You can sign up for the Quartz Daily Brief here.2. Read Robert Dobelli’s full article, titled Avoid News, on his website (PDF). My favorite quote is, “You are not that irresponsible with your money, reputation or health. Why give away your mind?”3. You can purchase Surprised by Joy on Amazon.