A path to better news consumption

In an age of mindless doom-scrolling, app alerts and algorithms, it’s important for us to retain (or regain) control of our news consumption. We have infinite information at our fingertips but often feel bombarded by information we don’t want and coerced into consuming content we don’t need. To gain more from media, we can seek less. Carefully curating what we ingest can help us avoid burnout or compassion fatigue.

The ultimate aim of a “less is more” approach to news consumption is more meaningful engagement with content. I consider meaningful engagement as helping to develop our understanding of the world and our compassion for other people and ourselves. Even as part of a “less is more” approach, meaningful engagement does not isolate us from reality or entrench us in an echo chamber where our own biases or prejudices are reinforced. It leaves us open to the world, willing to engage with a range of issues, ideas and (sometimes opposing) views. It is simply us being more selective about when and how we engage with media.

There is, of course, lots of garbage to sort through in an age of infinite information. Ensuring we engage meaningfully can be challenging. Rather than seek to read, watch and listen to as much as we possibly can, a first step towards meaningful engagement is to strip back our consumption. Retaining (or regaining) control over what we consume might begin with these smalls steps:

  • Engage with news only at set times of the day, rather than have notifications or live updates bombard us. If possible, delete apps from smartphones and close browsers that facilitate information overload.
  • Avoid “deathscrolling”,”doomscrolling” or any other trawling for a “hit”. Consume news with a purpose
  • Search for context: seek to find sources that prioritise the context of an issue (what does this issue mean on different levels, to a broader society?) not just its tragedy. Consider its relevance to our position in — and our understanding of — the world
  • Don’t watch TV news channels for more than 30 minutes at a time. (The “latest news” has begun looping itself by then)
  • Avoid news about celebrities. Focus relentlessly on ideas
  • When we watch sport, avoid commentary around the game. Watch the game itself and spend the breaks focusing on something else. Even watch with the volume down
  • Radically reduce the number of people we follow on Twitter and other social media. Visit the sites, if at all, with a purpose of learning about a particular issue. Seek to find informed voices whose messages can be viewed as meaningful, independent of their celebrity
  • Consider different points of view, but avoid content that seeks to reduce humans to two warring sides, one of which we must choose to belong to
  • Question everything we consume, even the stuff we agree with. This applies not just to the content and message of a news item but also to its overall validity as news

A similar “less is more” approach might be applied to our consumption of other types of media. Consider, for example, the notion of being “well-read” and how often people try to measure that by counting the number of books they have read. Being “well-read”, however, is more complex than that and, in any case, not what it used to be.

While anyone would benefit from working their way through literary canons and reading established and respected news sources, thanks to the internet, much exists outside these bodies. In a 21st century digital world, being “well-watched” and “well-listened” are increasingly valid and important notions. The quality of writing and ideas in visual and audio formats means sophisticated understandings of the world are attainable through any media format.

In an educated world, the growth of content that can meaningfully affect our lives is exponential. But in a connected world, with everything at our fingertips, we can’t read/watch/listen to it all, so it becomes more about our ability to find high-quality sources. That’s a beautiful thing: it has become less about whether or not we have read The Great Gatsby and more about whether our critical sorting abilities are likely to lead us to media as rich as Fitzgerald’s classic.

Someone might scoff at us for not having read one thing, but we might take comfort in having accessed something just as enriching that they’ve never head of. Being well read/watched/listened is less about specific sources of information and art that we are digesting. Rather, it is about our process of selection, our pathway to those sources. And finding our way on that path is by meaningfully curating what we consume.

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