I am taking a week off reading news stories, a news fast if you will, in part to ignore things that just make me mad and in part to see what i get done when i stop wasting time on things i can’t do much about. Sure i’ll read the funnies, the truest part of the newspaper, and Dear Abby, check my email and look at Facebook friends’ vacation/pet/kids pictures, wish them Happy Birthday, maybe check out a funny dog video. And finding out that Amy Winehouse passed away was as unavoidable as her own sad demise. I’m not becoming a digital hermit, after all. But i’ve been watching the news constantly since the Watergate era (which seems small potatoes compared to today’s outrageous meanness and scale of damage), and i suspect that there is a mental or character equivalent of toxic baggage from environmental pollutants and junk food. I’d like to see some sort of brain scan test to see what following the news does to a person.
There is some part of reading the news that is everyone’s civic duty as participants in a democracy. If the public doesn’t stay informed, then our voting is pretty silly. Oh wait, lots of people ARE uninformed, don’t think critically and vote silly. I have a neighbor who said she just couldn’t vote for John Kerry because she couldn’t stand the idea of two men kissing. (Apparently, she thought he was in favor of gay marriage and also thought she was empowered, via the presidential election to decide who kisses who.) And lots of folks voted against Obama because, you know, he’s a Muslim from Kenya. Okay, well, to be more specific, watching and reading the news with some critical thinking is good for democracy.
And then there are the specific issues, where you want to write smart, strongly worded letters to your representatives, sign petitions, possibly join a huge demonstration that may or may not sway the government. Clearly the 1 million people who protested around the world on the same day to stop the US going to war in Iraq fell on deaf Bush-Cheney-Rove-Carlisle Group ears. Which means that they didn’t do their part in a democracy, even if we did. And there is something restorative in finding 80,000 other news-junkie peaceniks filling up Market Street in San Francisco with thoughts of global humanity and pacifism, camaraderie, and really clever signs. (The best, referring to Bush having choked on a pretzel, was a giant pretzel shaped like a peace sign. Okay, maybe that’s a little mean, but fair.) And there’s nothing better for a cause than solid information, history and data backing up the good hearts and strong principles. Not to mention that many causes revolve around people who are disadvantaged or in remote locations, and the ability to spread news and create alliances to defend themselves can be a matter of life and death. Those depend on news-sharing networks. So i am not disconnecting forever. Just trying to break the habit of being a knee-jerk looky-lou, the habit that can sometimes be akin to competitive gossip (i posted it first!) or social rubber-necking and is often just an excuse to start an interesting chat with friends to avoid getting productive.
So what am i doing with my newly clear thoughts and spare time? Besides playing with the birds and the kitten? Well, i finally cleared off the top of my dresser and squared away my bedroom to the point where i could vacuum all of the floor space. Next a little carpet cleaning and later check the garden. But i am actually writing, gathering my thoughts and making something out of them – right here, this stuff – and working up to finishing an article and after that an outline for a book. And recharging my ideas and connections for my non-profit’s work.
Is news-fasting more about the excessive time and attention spent on the news in proportion to my direct involvement or about the foul mood all that creates? I mean, somehow we all drift off from important topics to look at the latest Hollywood train wreck or the celebri-candidates that screw up 4th grade history lessons or the hypocritical affairs of the family-values scions and diddle away gobs of time rolling our eyes and exclaiming in disgust and making sarcastic comments on Facebook. But honestly, i can’t do any more about the Greek people’s economy than I can about Lindsay Lohan. Neither of them call me for advice, even if they could do a lot worse. Most of the news just makes me mildly annoyed to hopping mad – hydro-fracking and tar sands, politicians that are equal parts arrogant and ignorant, unmonitored cheap-o pipelines that inevitably burst, pro-billionaire economic policy, absolutely everything related to Monsanto and skinheads – and I don’t really want to spend so much of my day angry.
So after i cleanse my system a bit and get rid of the toxic residue left by years of a heavy news diet, i think i’ll consume more selectively, perhaps counting outrage calories or calculating how good news cholesterol – the kind that makes you do something, whether pursuing a deep understanding or actually taking to the streets with pitchforks and torches – can offset the bad news cholesterol, the kind that just drives you nuts. And only consume this stuff once a day. Then maybe i’ll have time to write something of consequence myself, create something that promotes a positive change in the world. And play with the critters, go birdwatching, garden, make zucchini bread…. stuff that won’t make the news but is important (at least to me.)