How much information is just too much?

By Caitlin Kelly

 

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While this blog, on paper, has 20,000 followers, fewer and fewer are arriving and commenting.

I could take it personally, (and maybe I should!)

But I think we’re all overloaded: Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, et al are sucking the life out of us and reducing what little attention we have left to give —  beyond that for work, family, friends and life.

The New York Times ran two recent stories addressing this.

One, by their tech writer, discussed whether reading news in print, i.e. much more slowly and in lesser volume, was a wiser choice.

It was.

Avoid social.

This is the most important rule of all. After reading newspapers for a few weeks, I began to see it wasn’t newspapers that were so great, but social media that was so bad.

Just about every problem we battle in understanding the news today — and every one we will battle tomorrow — is exacerbated by plugging into the social-media herd. The built-in incentives on Twitter and Facebook reward speed over depth, hot takes over facts and seasoned propagandists over well-meaning analyzers of news.

You don’t have to read a print newspaper to get a better relationship with the news. But, for goodness’ sake, please stop getting your news mainly from Twitter and Facebook. In the long run, you and everyone else will be better off.

And this, admittedly by man with a highly unusual life — no need to work and no need to interact with anyone every day:

Right after the election, Erik Hagerman decided he’d take a break from reading about the hoopla of politics.

Donald Trump’s victory shook him. Badly. And so Mr. Hagerman developed his own eccentric experiment, one that was part silent protest, part coping mechanism, part extreme self-care plan.

He swore that he would avoid learning about anything that happened to America after Nov. 8, 2016.

“It was draconian and complete,” he said. “It’s not like I wanted to just steer away from Trump or shift the conversation. It was like I was a vampire and any photon of Trump would turn me to dust.”

It was just going to be for a few days. But he is now more than a year into knowing almost nothing about American politics. He has managed to become shockingly uninformed during one of the most eventful chapters in modern American history. He is as ignorant as a contemporary citizen could ever hope to be.

I get it.

I have online subscriptions to The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal — and never use them.

I read The New York Times and Financial Times seven days a week, plus about 20 weekly and monthly magazines. Plus Twitter and Facebook and some blogs.

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Plus television and radio.

And I feel increasingly angry and powerless by “knowing” about so much I can do little or nothing to change:

— that the U.S. has a President who lies every day and has sex with porn stars (and lies about that)

— that Yemeni citizens are dying of cholera

— that hundreds of Syrian children are being killed as I write these words.

There’s only so much impotence one can tolerate.

There’s only so much noise one can stand.

There’s only so much “news” one really needs.

I’m reaching my limit.

 

How about you?

What's In Your Media Diet?

NBC Nightly News broadcast
Image via Wikipedia

In addition to Hoovering up as much information from the world at large — conversations, ads, overheard remarks, keeping my eyes open, looking for trends and patterns — here’s where I get my information. Not a total list, but:

Every morning at 9:00 a.m., I listen to a full hour of BBC World News, on radio; read The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and New York Post, may listening to the local NPR talk shows, The Brian Lehrer Show (call-in) and Leonard Lopate (culture), Soundcheck (music) and their national shows Fresh Air and All Things Considered. On weekends, I enjoy Studio 360 and This American Life, both on PRI. Yes, I am a radio junkie! (Blame it on growing up listening to the excellent programming of the CBC, in Canada; for a good taste of it, try their version of ATC, the nightly new show “As It Happens.”)

I watch much less news television: NBC Nightly News and BBC. I check in a few times a day with mediabistro.com. which has a lot of media-related news and may scan a few other websites I like, quirky, personal ones like Shakesville or huge ones like Arts & Letters Daily and Broadsheet.

I often read British and Canadian newspapers on-line, from The Guardian to The Globe and Mail. I speak French and Spanish, so sometimes read in those languages, in print or on-line, like Le Point or Liberation from France. I was reading the Washington Post on-line and in print for years – looks like my subscription has lapsed — and also sometimes read The Los Angeles Times.

I read a lot of non-fiction — just finished eight books as background for my own — and try to read fiction when I can squeeze it in. I just bought my first copy of Lapham’s Quarterly and look forward to reading it.

I read a lot of colleagues’ non-fiction to blog about it and support other writers. I think it’s important both to share ideas and great work, and to create a sense of community.

I read a ton of women’s magazines, mostly for amusement. I sometimes read Vanity Fair, rarely read The New Yorker (can’t stand its elitist tone and dominance of male writers, a problem for me with many magazines.)

I read all the (remaining) shelter magazines, for pleasure and inspiration. We have subscriptions to: National Geographic, Smithsonian, Fortune, Forbes, SmartMoney, Barron’s, PDN (a photography trade magazine), Bon Appetit (after Gourmet was killed). At the library, when I have time, I’ll add Maclean’s (Canadian newsweekly), New York, maybe Time or Newsweek, but only rarely.

We fight over the weekend Financial Times we love it so much.

Here’s 13 Big Name writers and their media diets, from The Atlantic.

As fellow True/Slant writer Sara Libby recently wrote:

There you have it: If you’re not, male, white and straight, you simply cannot judge things fairly. Or report on them.

Only two women made that list — which is one reason I rarely read The Atlantic. Get a grip!

How about you?