The value of keeping up with the news

If you've been paying attention the last two weeks, an ongoing controversy erupted Saturday, January 19, and is still unfolding in one of the many seemingly endless iterations such controversies generate today through social media, op-eds, and the like. Last week, in Alan Jacobs's newsletter, he wrote this:

"On Tuesday morning, January 22, I read a David Brooks column about a confrontation that happened on the National Mall during the March for Life. Until I read that column I had heard nothing about this incident because I do not have a Facebook account, have deleted my Twitter account, don’t watch TV news, and read the news about once a week. If all goes well, I won’t hear anything more about the story. I recommend this set of practices to you all."

This got me thinking about a post Paul Griffiths wrote on his blog years ago, perhaps even a decade ago (would that he kept that blog up longer!). He reflected on the ideal way of keeping up with the news—and, note well, this was before the rise of Twitter et al. as the driver of minute-by-minute "news" content. He suggested that there is no real good served in knowing what is going on day-to-day, whether that comes through the newspaper or the television. Instead, what one ought to do is slow the arrival of news to oneself so far as possible. His off-the-cuff proposal: subscribe to a handful of monthly or bimonthly publications ranging the ideological spectrum and, preferably, with a more global focus so as to avoid the parochialism not just of time but of space. Whenever the magazines or journals arrive, you devote a few hours to reading patient, time-cushioned reflection and reporting on the goings-on of the world—99% of which bears on your life not one iota—and then you continue on with your life (since, as should be self-evident to all of us, no one but a few family and friends needs to know what we think about it).

Consider how much saner your life, indeed all of our lives, would be if we did something like Griffiths' proposal. And think about how not doing it, and instead "engaging in the discourse," posting on Facebook, tweeting opinions, arguing online: how none of it does anything at all except raise blood pressure, foment discord, engender discontent, etc. Activists and advocates of local participatory democracy are fools if they think anything remotely like what we have now serves their goals. If we slowed our news intake, resisted the urge to pontificate, and paid more attention to the persons and needs and tasks before us, the world—as a whole and each of its parts—would be a much better place than it is at this moment.


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