A Year Without the News Media

In 2013, I quit.

Read not the Times, but read the eternities. (Thoreau)I’ve never been a heavy consumer of news and pop culture, but for over 30 years, I faithfully read the daily newspaper and usually listened to radio news once or twice a week. I don’t watch television and never have (I was immensely blessed to be raised in a household without it), but I was still spending close to an hour a day absorbing news.

Toward the end of 2012, I opened the newspaper and realized that I’d read every single story in there before. The names and details changed, but the basic stories were all the same. At the same time, I was feeling dry of spirit and undernourished in mind, and trying desperately to regain time to do some important reading. It was the perfect time for a media fast.

It has been over a year now since I quit mainstream media, and I don’t plan to go back. Here is why:

  1. I gained more time to do things that matter. Although quitting the newspaper freed up only an hour a day, the time rescued turned out to be far greater than that. By the time I finished the paper in the evening, it was too late to begin reading anything deep, so I often spent the rest of time with a magazine, social media, or some other suboptimal use of time. With no newspaper, I was able to read, think, and write from dinner to time for evening prayer, which was plenty of time for deep, contemplative reading and thinking. Since this type of reading is essential for the work I do, this is a big win.
  2. I gained mind space for creative and contemplative work. Without the endless loop of artificial hype and repetitive news, I was able to focus on something other than the tyranny of the present. Cicero is said to have identified education as the key to escaping the tyranny of the present, and it is indeed one of the factors. However, I think that silence must be part of that freeing process as well. The removal of extraneous information clutter has reawakened some of my delight in creative projects. I’ve resumed sketching calligraphy layouts, studied permaculture, and enjoyed several museums.
  3. I was able to regain a birds-eye view of life; seeing forest, rather than trees. I’ve always tried to focus on priorities and the big picture, beginning, as Stephen Covey suggests in 7 Habits of Highly Effective Peoplewith the end in mind, but it is not easy to accomplish that when bombarded with the ceaseless yammering of an industry that is paid to fill time and space with noise.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal ChangeI wouldn’t suggest that it is impossible to have these benefits without a media fast–the point is that unfocused media consumption was a waste of time for me. The time away allowed me to analyze what types of information I needed or wanted, and find sources that would provide it. Your choices will vary with your place in life, your interests, and your calling, but I would suggest that purposeful, targeted choices will serve you better than being awash in random information.

Choosing new sources of information

For 2014 and beyond, I want to be aware of necessary things, so I chose a few new sources of information. It was important that they be reliable, focused, and relevant to what I need in order to fulfill my calling.

  • World events: I look for sources that provides simple, respectful, hype-free reporting from a Christian worldview, but lacking that, I try to balance NPR news coverage with carefully selected articles from Patheos or other Christian sources.
  • MagazinesTouchstone, Mother Earth News, Sunset, and Smithsonian
  • Social media: While I use it mostly for business purposes, it also serves to keep me aware of major events in the lives of acquaintances and friends.
  • Tidbits: My mother and aunt send clippings of things they’ve enjoyed, which is a sweet way to keep in touch.
  • Weather: For current conditions, I look out the window or open the door; for future weather, I check the app on my iPhone. If a truly catastrophic weather event threatens, the app will notify me.
  • Car: I’ve been enjoying audiobooks,* music, prayer, or silence.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
*Two audiobooks I highly recommend are The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin. During the year, I also enjoyed Homer’s Odyssey, and started Dante’s Inferno. Listening to the classics is very different from reading them, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

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