Nothing about the election results, Andrew? I don't blame you, it was a somnolent campaign and we can expect more of the same from the Iron Chancelloress, regardless of who becomes her junior partner in the new government.
With advances in life extension technology she might stay in office until the end of the century. Amazing how one by one, her rivals in the CDU have fallen by the wayside. She makes it look easy but the disaster zone that is the FDP leadership shows how hard it is to stay on top.
I was going to write an impassioned screed about how Merkel's "nicht hilfreich" and "alternativlos" have gently smothered dissent beneath a fluffy bedspread, but I feel my eyelids drooping and zzzzZ...
I couldn't have said it better myself, at least the zzzzz part. I have become a convert to Rolf Dobelli's point of view: following the news is a waste of time. The entire argument -- and it's a long one -- can be read here in German, here in English. A shorter English version appeared recently in the Guardian here. Some of the main points:
News is irrelevant. Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of news is irrelevant to you. But people find it very difficult to recognise what's relevant. It's much easier to recognise what's new. The relevant versus the new is the fundamental battle of the current age. Media organisations want you to believe that news offers you some sort of a competitive advantage. Many fall for that. We get anxious when we're cut off from the flow of news. In reality, news consumption is a competitive disadvantage. The less news you consume, the bigger the advantage you have.
News is toxic to your body. It constantly triggers the limbic system. Panicky stories spur the release of cascades of glucocorticoid (cortisol). This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress. High glucocorticoid levels cause impaired digestion, lack of growth (cell, hair, bone), nervousness and susceptibility to infections. The other potential side-effects include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision and desensitisation.
News increases cognitive errors. News feeds the mother of all cognitive errors: confirmation bias. In the words of Warren Buffett: "What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact." News exacerbates this flaw. We become prone to overconfidence, take stupid risks and misjudge opportunities. It also exacerbates another cognitive error: the story bias. Our brains crave stories that "make sense" – even if they don't correspond to reality. Any journalist who writes, "The market moved because of X" or "the company went bankrupt because of Y" is an idiot. I am fed up with this cheap way of "explaining" the world.
News inhibits thinking. Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses that steal attention for their own purposes. News makes us shallow thinkers. But it's worse than that. News severely affects memory. There are two types of memory. Long-range memory's capacity is nearly infinite, but working memory is limited to a certain amount of slippery data. The path from short-term to long-term memory is a choke-point in the brain, but anything you want to understand must pass through it. If this passageway is disrupted, nothing gets through. Because news disrupts concentration, it weakens comprehension. Online news has an even worse impact. In a 2001 study two scholars in Canada showed that comprehension declines as the number of hyperlinks in a document increases. Why? Because whenever a link appears, your brain has to at least make the choice not to click, which in itself is distracting. News is an intentional interruption system.
News wastes time. If you read the newspaper for 15 minutes each morning, then check the news for 15 minutes during lunch and 15 minutes before you go to bed, then add five minutes here and there when you're at work, then count distraction and refocusing time, you will lose at least half a day every week. Information is no longer a scarce commodity. But attention is. You are not that irresponsible with your money, reputation or health. Why give away your mind?
News makes us passive. News stories are overwhelmingly about things you cannot influence. The daily repetition of news about things we can't act upon makes us passive. It grinds us down until we adopt a worldview that is pessimistic, desensitised, sarcastic and fatalistic. The scientific term is "learned helplessness". It's a bit of a stretch, but I would not be surprised if news consumption, at least partially contributes to the widespread disease of depression.
News kills creativity. Finally, things we already know limit our creativity. This is one reason that mathematicians, novelists, composers and entrepreneurs often produce their most creative works at a young age. Their brains enjoy a wide, uninhabited space that emboldens them to come up with and pursue novel ideas. I don't know a single truly creative mind who is a news junkie – not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter. On the other hand, I know a bunch of viciously uncreative minds who consume news like drugs. If you want to come up with old solutions, read news. If you are looking for new solutions, don't.
Some of these arguments are more convincing than others, but they add up to a watertight case. Local news may be relevant, but following national-level political developments is a complete waste of time. I have no influence over who runs Germany, and who runs Germany has almost no effect on my life. Therefore, I don't care who runs Germany. Same goes for the U.S. And that all goes triple for countries I have even fewer links to. As for seeming 'well-informed' at cocktail parties, I don't go to cocktail parties, and I find talking about day-to-day horse-race politics a pointless bore. (Broader historical developments or theoretical insights are another thing).
Unfortunately I can't go on a complete news blackout, since my profession sort of requires me to remain vaguely aware of 'current events'. But I try to consume as little news as possible. I'd rather go to a garden and take pictures, or just look at a beautiful tree.