I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well, I just had to laugh.
— The Beatles, A Day In The Life
I’ve made a decision to avoid reading the news for the rest of 2016. This might strike some as an eccentric, even foolhardy, decision. After all, things are happening in the world: a Presidential election is underway in the USA, Brexit in the UK, conflicts in Syria, refugees in the Med.
I’m inspired by reading the provocative book The News: A Users Manual, by Alain de Botton which suggests a number of reasons to treat the ‘news’ with caution. In a trenchant analysis of the news de Botton not only takes issue with the selectivity and bias of the news in the usual way of political critique from various quarters, he raises fundamental questions about the philosophical underpinnings of the activity of reporting and editorial control:
The news may present itself as the authoritative portraitist of reality. It may claim to have an answer to the impossible question of what has really been going on, but it has no overarching ability to transcribe reality. It merely selectively *fashions* reality through the choices it makes about which stories to cast its spotlight on and which ones to leave out.
The news knows how to render its own mechanisms almost invisible and therefore hard to question. It speaks to us in a natural unaccented voice, without reference to its own assumption-laden perspective. it fails to disclose that it does not merely *report* on the world, but is instead constantly at work crafting a new planet in our minds in line with its own highly distinctive priorities.
As important as the stories the news covers, claims de Botton, are those stories that are not considered ‘newsworthy’:
…the cloud floating right now unattended over the church spire, the gentle thought in the doctor’s mind as he approaches the patient’s bare arm with a needle, the field mice by the hedgerow, the small child tapping the surface of a newly hard-bolied egg while her mother looks on lovingly, the nuclear submarine patrolling the maritime borders with efficiency and courage, the factory producing the first prototypes of a new kind of engine and the spouse who, despite extraordinary provocations and unkind words, discovers fresh reserves of patience and forgiveness.
So as an experiment I’ll be cancelling my FT subscription, avoiding the TV, unplugging from social media and turning off radio bulletins. I’m not completely alone in this, as I’ve discovered others who have made the same decision, some many years ago. Instead of reading and watching the news, I’ll be paying more attention to the ebb and flow of the tides, phases of the moon and birdsong.
I hope to fill the evening hours considering the Dharma, perhaps reading Proust for the first time, or tackling an epic like the Mahabharata or The Bible.
I might blog as the experiment unfolds, but you won’t find me on social media as I ease into the experience of this fast from the headlines de Botton has enjoyed:
We need relief from the news-filled impression that we are living in an age of unparalleled importance, with our wars, our debts, our riots, our missing children, our after-premier parties, our IPOs and our rogue missiles. We need, on occasion, to be able to rise up into the space of our imagination, many kilometers above the mantel of the earth, to a place where that particular conference and this particular epidemic, that new phone and this shocking wildfire, will lose a little of their power to affect us — and where even the most intractable problems will seem to dissolve against the aeons of time to which the view of other galaxies attests.