I wasn't going to make a New Year's resolution this year. Anyone who follows this blog regularly knows I'm pretty obsessed with planning my life, and constantly setting goals – and so rather than declare the New Year as some type of starting line of a new race, I was generally going to ignore the whole thing and just keep pushing myself as I have been.
That was until I got home on New Year's Eve around 7pm here in Maui. It was just before midnight in New York City, a place I consider to be the capital of the world, and the one true timezone to rule them all. As is my habit, I opened up a new tab on my web browser and almost without thinking, typed in "cnn.com". There on the homepage of CNN in it's almost cliche "this is important" 72pt font was the headline "35 Killed In New Year's Celebration". Seeing as the headline was in an unbelievably large font, I was very concerned, and as I had been thinking about New York's celebration I connected those dots. I immediately clicked on the headline, and discovered it was in Shanghai China. Someone had released numerous coupons that apparently looked like dollar bills, and in the mayhem that enveloped the large crowd, 35 individuals were killed and dozens more were injured. It's quite possible that this was indeed the worst thing that happened on New Year's Eve. But did I really need to know about it? Was there anything I could do... any insights I could draw from it... lessons to be learned? No. It was just pain and misery packaged for consumption.
Here an entire planet had celebrated the New Year – from Asia to Europe, from New York to California, from Rio to Moscow the world had rejoiced in celebration and good will. Millions of folks danced, sang, drank, shot-off fireworks, feasted in celebration, but the good folks at CNN had looked long and hard for what was the worst thing out there - and that was the main story and focus of their site for the evening.
It was at that moment that I declared my New Year's Resolution: I would stop reading and watching the news in 2015!
I realize this might seem like a drastic step, but it's something that has been growing on me for some time now. First off, I have a really bad habit of getting easily distracted while working by opening up news webpages like cnn.com, politico.com, huffingtonpost.com... even foxnews.com, bbc.co.uk and beyond. It's usually a subconscious action... a pause in my programming lets my mind break free momentarily, and without so much as a thought I've pressed "CTRL+TAB" on my keyboard, started typing in the first few letters of whatever news site I've suddenly had a craving for, and faster than I can even realize I've changed gears, I'm now scouring over headlines to find distraction. The habit is so pervasive in fact that I've actually found myself opening a new tab and loading up CNN while I'm actually on CNN reading something else. That's right, my brain says "this is boring... you should do... well, what you're doing." Sometimes I will look across the 8 or 9 tabs open in my web browser and there will be 2 or 3 "news" tabs open... tiny breaks throughout the morning in which I got distracted, but then made it back.
If it was just a mindless distraction, such a habit wouldn't be too dangerous. I put in enough work hours that taking a few minutes every hour or so to look at something else would probably be healthy - if what I was looking at was educational, informative or inspiring in some fashion (which, many of the blogs I choose to go to accomplish these goals). Unfortunately, mainstream news is none of those things. It is sensational, shallow and a perversion of the reality that is actually going on. Headlines are written not to provide clarity to the content, but encourage click-throughs - ranging from slightly misleading to down-right false statements that one doesn't discover their falseness until nearly the end of the article when they clarify what truly happened (if they do at all). In October for example, CNN had the headline "Ebola In The Air? A Nightmare That Could Happen." Sounds pretty terrifying, especially with the handful of ebola cases in the US that were occurring at the time. However, when you read the article, the scientific consensus is unanimous that this is unlikely to happen, and that Ebola will continue to be transferred through contact with bodily fluids. It's as if someone is coming up with horrible scenarios in the form of headlines at CNN, and writers are having to work with what they have to disprove them.
What follows the article on almost all the mainstream news websites is a comments section which is one part "Jerry Springer Show", and another part Case Study on the lack of education and common decency in the global populace. I worked hard to stop myself from reading comments earlier this year, but still find my eyes drifting down there, especially when I can tell an article has the potential to be controversial (an almost universal characteristic of modern journalism).
I studied journalism in college - it's technically what my degree is in. I helped start up my high school newspaper and have always been an avid reader of the "news". That relationship began to shift in the early 2000's when I saw how the mainstream media's post-9/11 coverage sensationalized our need for war, placated the glaringly false claims the Bush administration was making at the time, and blatantly ignored the size and scope of the anti-war movement. I remember weekends with protests of tens of thousands of citizens in every major city in America and beyond that wouldn't even get a minute of news coverage. Or worse, shared coverage with "Pro-war" groups marching in "support of the troops". Somehow the media saw 20 folks standing on a corner waving American flags as on par with 10,000 or more folks marching against the war. CNN, Fox News and the other mainstream 24-hour news channels had an endless parade of military spokespeople all spewing "facts" that have since been proven false. How Fox News can invite Oliver North to discuss middle-eastern foreign policy and pretend he is neutral, while all the while ignoring the fact that he's a convicted traitor to the US who himself was directly involved with illegal weapon sales and various other shady dealings in that very part of the world is amazing. They were certainly not alone. Recent revelations about the CIA torture programs has revealed that the CIA actively placed false information (otherwise known as lies) in various media outlets. Between former disgraced military vets, CIA covert ops and a general lack of journalistic integrity, it's really hard to call CNN, Fox News and other outlets "news" at all - they are simply propaganda machines.
When the mainstream media isn't misinforming us about foreign powers and the cost of war, their other favorite topic of choice is personal tragedy. This includes everything from family issues, local shootings, teenagers fighting, runaway brides, online bullies, racist/sexist/homophobic comments from random employers, freak accidents in which children die, celebrities with addiction issues, or any other story that can somehow be connected to their primary "conflict themes" – gun rights, abortion, homosexuality, race or violence. Earlier this week a woman was shot by her two year old in a Walmart. You can almost hear the sirens going off at CNN as they rejoice over such a small-town tragedy. Within minutes I'm sure they had Anderson Cooper flying out to some little town he's never heard of to interview a random neighbor to provide more insight on a personal tragedy that has almost no implications on a national level - but if exploited correctly can fill up their website and air time for a week.
So it's clear that the "news" isn't something I need in my life. If I wish for some reason to learn about what's happening in the world without experiencing it myself, there are superior resources available. My habit has very little to with being informed, and more to do with the anxiety of wanting to know "what is going on" that the media itself seems to instill. The internet by its very nature seems to create a desire to know what is happening "right now" at all times. However - if you want to know what is happening "right now", your best choice is to turn off the computer and walk outside, not visit CNN. Because what is happening is what you're experiencing. You decide what is happening - not the "news". If you choose to read the news, then what is happening is that you're discovering how horrible life can be. How miserable some people are to each other, and how desperate times seem to many. If you stand up and walk outside, you'll discover none of that is true. Or at least, hopefully, it's not true for you. Nobody is robbing me, nobody is pointing a gun at me, nobody is rioting on my street, nobody is dying at this very moment. In fact, it's a beautiful day, my neighbor is out sweeping his porch, the birds are singing... things are perfect.
So how have I started the process of cleansing myself from "news". Well, luckily I got rid of cable several months ago, so I don't have to worry about finding it on my TV. For my web browser, I just downloaded a plugin called "Block Site" that lets me provide redirects to any websites I want. So now when I try to go to cnn.com, I get pointed to google.com. At first I had all my news sites redirect to art blogs – but I found while that cleared out the "news", it still was letting me get distracted, and so in an effort to solve both issues, I've chosen google.com as it has almost zero content - just a search bar.
It has been an interesting experiment thus far. As all the news sites open Google, it's been a wake-up call to me just how often I subconsciously make that effort – as I'm opening up Google numerous times a day. I sorta laugh when I think to myself "why did I go to Google.... oh yah, I was trying to go to Huffington Post." I have no doubt over the next week or two as my mind realizes it can no longer get its anxiety fix, the habit of opening those tabs will fade. If for some reason I feel I need the news, I can obviously open a different browser and find it – I'm not trying to cut myself off from the world – but hopefully this is the first step in making sure I redirect my energies towards the positive this year, and stop wasting so much time thinking about horrible things which are way beyond my reality.
2015 is all about the pursuit of Happiness. Each of my goals and actions are geared towards this defining principle. How can I focus my energy and time on activities that cultivate this happiness and grow my appreciation for life. Clearing out negative energies and practices is the trailhead of this path. Removing a for-profit "news" system focused on all that is wrong in the world is just a first step – but an important one. Until the mainstream media decides to start reporting on all the good and potential that exists, I have no need to watch. I've had enough of what they sell for now.
"Focusing exclusively on sensory data creates a world of appearances, which are ultimately illusions. Since everything comes and goes, the nature of the material world is obviously restricted to transitory status. When our eyes see only the colors before them, they're destined to become blind to what lies beyond the world of appearances. We can not know the creator if we're focused exclusively on what's been created."
- Wayne Dyer, "Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life"