Chapter 5 - How the News Makes You Stupid
The stories we paid attention to the most were more often than not nothing more than distractions that turned out to be either false or unimportant. And some of the most important things (with the benefit mid-2020 hindsight) did not get the press or attention they deserved. For example, in 2020 the US shut down her economy for weeks to battle COVID19. The virus appeared in China in late 2019 but very little attention was paid. No one knew it was going to be a giant problem. In short, we paid attention to stuff we should not have paid attention to and we failed to pay attention to stuff we should have paid attention to. We all spent hours and hours scrolling through endless headlines and breaking news that promised to be history changing moments... only to lead to nothing. We could have never heard of Michael Cohen or Stormy Daniels and we would be no more ignorant of the way things unfolded.
Imagine crossing the street. You look left. You look right. No cars, buses, or
trucks. You cross safely.
Now imagine this, you start to cross the street you look left but notice a bird in the sky. Then you notice the water tower in the distance and wonder why they painted, "Welcome to Glome" on the side. Then you see a little boy on a tricycle. Then you notice a man with an artificial leg walking out of a building. Then you notice the building is white and wonder why the building is white. You start to cross. You remember for a second to look left but then you see a billboard on top of a building and wonder how much it cost per month to advertise there. You take a step into the road and as you do you see a pretty girl walking on the sidewalk towards you. She looks sort of like your high school girlfriend but of course it could not be her because your high school girlfriend moved to Kentucky with her new husband. You remember to look right and as you do you see three large men that look sort of dangerous. You wonder if you should be worried about them. You take another step forward. Your attention is suddenly focused.... on the bus that is a few feet away from you and getting closer. You do not even feel the impact and you are suddenly talking to St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.
More information is not always good. Often it is simply bad. When you are crossing a street, you need to know two things: is there a car coming left and is there a car coming right. Any more information can only hurt your chances of crossing safely.
The news is like an information overload 24 hours a day. If they were actually helpful, they would tailor the amount of news on any given day to the number of things they feel are important. On action packed days (maybe election night), Fox or CNN might have 10 hours of news. But on most days, the news would be something like this: 'Hello ladies and gentlemen, not much has changed since yesterday... tune in again tomorrow and we will let you know if anything has changed. Good night.' News on most days would be 10 - 15 seconds.
This would allow consumers to know that breaking and important news is truly important. By doing 24 hour news, websites and cable news are forced to constantly try to fool you into thinking important and breaking things are happening when in reality they are not.
But... even if they were genuine and only published news that they thought was actually important, it is worth considering that often we do not know what is important when it happens. Sometimes a break in at Watergate hotel is simply a break in. How can you tell, without the benefit of hindsight, whether that will lead to no more than the arrest of a petty criminal or the removal of a president from office? You can't.
As NN Taleb is fond of saying, proof that the news is mostly unimportant is found in month-old newspapers. Pick up a newspaper from a month ago and tell me how much of it speaks of things that are still important today. I promise you that it will be a very very small percentage. Pick up a newspaper from a year ago and that number goes to almost zero.
So... stop watching the news. Stop paying attention to Fox, CNN and MSNBC. Everything they post is nothing more than a dancing monkey trying to get your attention while you are trying to cross the street. It is the opposite of helpful. It is simply a distraction that is making your life worse not better.
do we deal with this? How do we protect ourselves from the harm that is
constant noise? We need to consume less frequently. Turn off Fox and CNN. Stop
checking Drudge. Stop scrolling through trending news stories. Go to a once a month consumption schedule. Try to find outlets
that summarize the most important news from a month ago. That still might be a
lot of noise but it will be cut down significantly. And the actual news might
be a little more clear. Given the benefit of time, I have a better idea as to
which is more important: WWIII or COVID19.