News Information Overload (or, Why You Should Quit the News)

by | May 25, 2017 | Wellbeing | 8 comments

News information overloadAs a South African kid growing up in the eighties, there was no such thing as information overload, never mind news information overload.

Television arrived in the country in 1976 and in our house a few years after that.

Dad wasn’t what you’d call an early-adopter.

We had the news at eight in either English or Afrikaans depending what day of the week it was.

With only one channel we had no choice but to take turns.

Later, when our broadcast hours were extended, they introduced a short news bulletin at six in the evening.

Those were heady times.

Information Overload 2.0

Information overload 2.0

Fast-forward to 2017 and things are a little different. Nowadays we have a barrage of information coming at us from all manner of sources, most of it not relevant to us.

Last weekend I went up to Johannesburg for a family reunion. My cousin picked me up from the airport and we spent the ride back to his house catching up.

“I’m just so depressed about the state of our country,” he admitted to me.

I get that it’s not all roses and sunshine here right now, but overall I feel pretty optimistic with where we’re headed as a nation.

“Do you listen to the news a lot?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said, “maybe I should stop that.”

“You’ll definitely feel happier if you do.” I told him.

Sporty and I quit the news years ago. While we weren’t what you’d call avid followers, we did make a half-hearted attempt at staying abreast of things. We never really questioned our motives, it was just something we did.

Becoming minimalist forced us to kick the habit. No television ergo no news to watch. After a while we made the connection between how we were feeling (much happier) and the fact that the news was no longer a constant in our living room.

A few years later I decided that a stint in government would make for good resumé fodder. Part of my job entailed attending morning news briefings (you know, to stay abreast of things). The meetings were relatively short and fairly relaxed, so I didn’t mind them too much.

It was only after I resigned that I realised what a negative effect they’d had on me. I felt noticeably lighter and happier and all because I was no longer privy to the news.

People always argue that they need to know what’s going on, but there are a few things to take into account when considering this.

Most of the time knowing what’s going on doesn’t serve us in the slightest. In fact, it more often than not the news has a negative effect on our wellbeing.

If it’s important, you’ll find out regardless or whether or not you spend your days glued to the TV. In his Complaint Free Living course*, Will Bowen tells a story of how news of Michael Jackson’s death reached him while he was in a remote village somewhere in Africa.

*You can find out more about Will and his CFL course at the end of the post.

Finally —and for me, this is perhaps the most important point— news is only worth knowing (and spreading) if you can actually make a difference. For example, if there’s a fire in your city and a lot of people lose their homes you can volunteer your time or donate food and clothes.

However, let’s say a plane goes down on the other end of the globe, knowing that doesn’t serve you in the slightest. And it definitely doesn’t bear repeating to everyone you run into. In those instances the best thing you can do is send out your prayers and thoughts to the people involved and leave it at that.

A bigger problem with the news information overload issue, is that we’re not just being subjected to an inundation of bad news, we’re being subjected to the same bad news over and over again.

News channels are notorious for replaying the same video clips and sound bytes ad nauseam (or until something else happens and then they’ll do the same thing again). It’s rubber-necking plain and simple, but somehow the fact that it’s on the news makes it okay to gawp.

Bad news is bad for our mental health, affects our productivity levels and pretty much makes us miserable.

Bad news isn’t wine. It doesn’t improve with age. —Colin Powell

A News Fast Challenge

Information overload - news fast

Do a Google search on why bad news is bad for you and you’ll be rewarded* with an avalanche of results. But proof is in the pudding. Don’t take my word for it or anyone else’s for that matter.

*Maybe rewarded isn’t the right word?

Instead, why not put our claims to the test by either quitting your news habit entirely or severely limiting your intake of it. I guarantee you’ll notice the positive effects within a week, if not sooner. If you want to simplify your life, this is a great way to start.

A Complaint Free World

Information overload - A Complaint Free World

A few years ago Sporty and I signed up for Will Bowen’s Complaint Free Living course. While we’re by no means complaint-free, the course definitely helped us notice just how much we complain, blame and gossip.

Check out his book A Complaint Free World: How to Stop Complaining and Start Enjoying the Life You Always Wanted and order a no complaining bracelet from his website. Once you become aware of your negative patterns and behaviours, it’s a lot easier to redirect them in a more positive direction.

Let us know in the comments if you decide to take up the news fast challenge! Here’s to going from information overload to information zero load (and protecting ourselves from negative energy in the process)!

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  1. Susan

    I can certainly endorse the above. I have been news free now for some years and my stress levels have gone down immeasurably. It started when I read Sara Maitland’s Book of Silence. A fascinating read. I assumed because I lived alone at the time and had no TV that I got plenty of silence in my life. But I realised that the first thing I did when I got up in the morning and the first thing I did upon entering the house was to switch on the radio. In the UK what you get in the morning is Radio 4’s Today programme. Other UK readers will know what I mean by that! I resolved to not switch on the radio until past 9.00 am and to switch off at 9.00 pm. It made a huge difference. I always find out what I need to know (such as the recent tragic atrocity in Manchester) and can take my time to read a measured report about it, instead of the hype and hysteria we are usually greeted with on news programmes and newspapers. Newspapers – now that is another thing! Out of my life forever! I rarely listen to the radio now, and I can only access it through my laptop as I don’t have a dedicated radio any more.

    • Ang

      Hi Susan, it’s pretty much the same here in SA in terms of being inundated with news first thing. That’s one of the main reasons we stopped listening to our favourite music station: it also have news updates every hour on the hour. Eventually it became such a schlep to turn the radio off every hour that we just left it off.

      You’re very right about mindful consumption as well. If you do feel the need to know what’s going on then pick a news website and read the updates once and in your own time. There’s no need to be bombarded with the same news over and over.

      I’m super naive and until I worked in government I assumed that if it was reported in the newspaper it must be true. Ha ha ha. Working behind the scenes in gov allowed me to see how the journalists distorted the truth. Also, we’re saving the trees by avoiding newspapers, so there’s that! 😉

      • Susan

        Yes, with you on the saving paper aspect. I have friends who take two broadsheet papers each day (yikes!) and if they stay with me the amount of paper I have to clear away is amazing. We had a subscription for a weekly magazine and have just renewed with the online version only. It works well, I read it quickly and that is it, the paper version is not hanging around for ages on the magazine pile. It’s the way to go!

        • Sporty

          I totally agree, Susan! The online publications, quite often, have more info in them than the paper printed versions. So there’s that plus as well. Thanks so much for you comment, again 😉

  2. Madeleine

    I haven’t watched the news regularly since the eighties! If something big happens (like a tsunami) people will tell you for sure and you can donate some cash if you want to. If something big happens (like a plane crash) there’s nothing you can do to help, as you say, so you really don’t need to know about it.

    As for repeating bad news, that’s definitely a habit I’ve tried to break, especially if it’s local news or gossip. It’s just not helpful! For a while there I was logging on to a good news website, but in the end decided it was better to be mindful of the good happening locally, and that is plenty.


    • Ang

      I love your idea of simply being mindful of all the good that is happening locally, because there really is a lot of it!

      Unfortunately, I think our judgement is clouded if we follow regular news because they focus on the negative, which means that’s what we’ll be more inclined to notice. By not consuming the regular news, we’re far more likely to notice the good stuff! 🙂

  3. kddomingue

    Thanks for giving me the words that I’ve been groping for to describe why I find so many televised reports of tragic events repulsive…..
    rubbernecking is exactly it! It’s almost ghoulish the way the news media jumps on some tragic event and shows it over and over and over again. And when reporters thrust a microphone into the face of someone who has just lost a loved one one in some tragic way and ask them how they feel? It makes me feel I’ll.

    Everything seems to be ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS in the news. Everything is SUPER IMPORTANT. The media must CONSTANTLY BOMBARD us with the VERY IMPORTANT STUFF until the next SUPER IMPORTANT, SUPER URGENT, SUPER TRAGIC thing comes along. Did reading the preceding two sentences make you feel a little tense​, a little unsettled? It makes me feel tense….and I wrote it! That’s how the news makes me feel, tense and unsettled. It would be one thing if I could disperse that negative energy by DOING something about whatever it is…..but, 99 times out of 100, there’s nothing I can do.

    You’ve inspired me to, at least, go into another room while the hubs is watching the news and to delete the online news feeds from my tablet!

    • Ang

      Hi there KD,

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment! I’m so happy this piece left you feeling inspired, that was ultimately our aim. Who knows, maybe your hubs will eventually follow your example when he sees how much happier you are for not watching the news all the time. And yes, all those caps did cause a little tension…ha ha. Well done for proving a point.

      I’ve been sharing it so much lately, but considering all that’s happening in the world right now, I still believe this quote from Mother Teresa speaks volumes: “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.”

      We humans tend to fixate on the all the negative news that’s out there, obsessing about how bad things are and that there’s no way we can make a difference on our own. The thing is, we can make a difference. Each of us, in our own small way, can do something. Wishing you a wonderful weekend! 🙂


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