I came across a quote recently that I think is powerful.
This idea eloquently captures the reality any adult has faced: that you can only will yourself to do something you don’t care about for so long.
Eventually, you end up either cultivating a taste for your discipline, and thus continuing it, or you quit.
In the context of this article, I lack intrinsic motivation to read, watch, or otherwise consume mainstream news.
What I mean by mainstream news.
I mean I don’t regularly consume content from any major newspapers or television from any major news source.
I don’t avoid it dogmatically.
In fact, I occasionally scan the front page of The Wall Street Journal that my office receives.
I just don’t typically make time for mainstream news consumption.
I do read about things that interest me including finance, technology, entrepreneurship, pop culture, and more.
I find I often have an inkling about cultural trends because I see them through the lens of these subjects I enjoy reading.
Although I don’t believe this sentiment is uncommon, many seem surprised when I openly discuss my lack of concern with mainstream news.
This lack of concern largely stems from my understanding of why people prioritize the news today.
News (aka gossip): The Evolutionary Origin
Most human behavior fits neatly into the evolutionary framework.
Following the news is no exception.
Imagine a pre-historic situation in which some people closely follow “the news” like:
- Where the best hunting opportunities are
- Where to find water to drink
- When a leader from an enemy tribe has died and thus when they are vulnerable
- What mates are available
Knowledge of this sort of news (or gossip) in the prehistoric world would certainly increase your odds of reproduction.
Thus, I believe we live in a world where that trait is extremely common as the evolutionary timeline has resulted in an abundance of news followers.
However, we no longer live in a world where our survival depends on “the news.”
And yet, mainstream news still very much exploits our evolutionary tendency to find importance in it.
Mainstream News’ Exploitation of Evolutionary Tendencies for Monetary Gain
Most mainstream news outlets optimize their articles for clicks since a greater number of clicks typically means more money for its creator.
Clickbait posts in tandem with social media’s optimization for engagement have resulted in a world where mainstream news no longer educates.
Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, has recognized this failure of the news to educate.
To combat misinformation, he released a free PDF version of the book, Factfulness, to college students on his website.
Here’s what Bill has to say about Factfulness.
In Factfulness, author Hans Rosling, provides a fascinating deep dive into the economic situation of the 21st century world.
Rosling’s extensive research reveals the shocking reality that, according to almost any metric you can find, the world has gotten healthier, wealthier, and safer in the past 50+ years than it has ever been.
If mainstream news reported this reality, it wouldn’t be shocking.
Rosling also points out through survey how few people know about this reality.
According to his surveys, most people believe the world has either gotten worse or is far less healthy, wealthy, and safe than it actually is.
Among the various cohorts of people surveyed, journalists scored just as poorly as everyone else in having an accurate understanding of the world’s economic situation.
This seems to be proof that misinformation from mainstream news is not with malicious intent since some of those most deceived by it are its creators.
Instead, it’s likely the result of incremental shifts toward profitability in a world that appears to reward taking advantage of our evolutionary tendency to fear predators (at least in the short-term).
I don’t think every mainstream news journalist, falls into this trap.
In fact, I think excellent journalism occurs at many mainstream news companies.
However, it seems to be the exception rather than the rule, particularly in the case of video and television.
This is why the evening news from any TV network always feels “spun” to me.
“If you don’t watch the news, how you do stay informed?”
Being informed is a largely subjective measure.
What’s informed to some isn’t necessarily informed to others.
Furthermore, it seems unlikely that mainstream news will truly inform you in light of Rosling’s research in Factfulness.
Instead, it will keep you apprised of certain negative events that others who consume mainstream news also know about.
Consuming mainstream news is a good way to fit in with others who follow mainstream news.
I understand the desire to feel like you’re part of a social group, but I think there are better things to rally around than mainstream news.
However, I think you can get sufficiently up-to-speed by chatting about current events with a knowledgeable friend when it suits you.
I have a handful of people in my life who are truly passionate about current events.
They do the deep work necessary to uncover the truth, and they consume news from a variety of sources, mainstream and otherwise.
Anytime I want to vote or just have a question, I chat with them and they get me up to speed.
Though this might sound involved, it’s actually really simple.
Usually chatting with them for a few minutes on the phone suffices.
However, I occasionally spend an hour or so with a friend who explains to me the current geopolitical landscape.
It’s fascinating and extremely enjoyable.
“I thought you weren’t interested in the news.”
In general, I don’t focus on consuming mainstream news.
However, one of my favorite things is talking with friends about their interests, even if their interests are not my primary interests.
Learning about geopolitics from a friend whom I trust in a context where I can ask questions is thoroughly enjoyable.
“Isn’t it embarrasing to not know what’s going on in the world?”
I don’t think mainstream news accurately portrays what’s going on in the world.
Thus, I typically don’t feel insecure about not consuming mainstream news.
“If you don’t consume mainstream news, don’t you live an echo chamber of your own opinions?”
I go out of my way to consume content from thoughtful people I disagree with.
An example of someone who falls into this category for me is Ray Dalio.
I think Ray’s book, Principles, is excellent.
He has also published several articles about various subjects including political reform that I disagree with.
However, I thoroughly enjoy reading his perspective because it causes me to think deeply and question my assumptions.
“Do you think it’s bad to consume mainstream news?”
I think you can get a balanced perspective on what’s happening in the world if mainstream news is one of your news sources.
But if mainstream news is your only news source, your perspective on current events is likely far from reality.
“What news source do you recommend?”
My recommended news source is a friend you trust who is passionate about current events.
I’ve also heard good things about Stratfor News, but I’ve never had a subscription to their service.