These days there are two constants in my daily information intake: 1) reading the news, and 2) browsing social media. However, the news is often terrible and social media is always terrible. This means my brain is constantly at war with itself on how to stay informed about what’s going on without feeding into my half-serious fantasies of retreating into a remote cave where the news can’t reach me and social media doesn’t exist.
My first instinct is to stop reading the news to help preserve my sanity. That’s what a lot of alleged experts say to do: “Just stop reading the news! You’ll be so much happier without all that negativity in your life!” But my brain has other ideas. Whenever I ponder this option, my brain says, “Hold up, now. Don’t you wanna be informed? Do you wanna be clueless about what’s going on out there, even if it’s awful?” Of course I don’t wanna live in ignorance, brain! But there’s just so much horrible stuff being said and done by horrible poeple, and more is always brewing on the horizon — is it healthy to keep reminding yourself about that, day after day?
Feeling pushback, my brain tries to compromise. “Maybe you can just read the headlines once a day, then stop. Or even do a news fast by avoiding it completely for a couple of weeks. Then you’ll feel better!” Sounds like the rationalizations of an addict, right? I’ve actually done the news fast thing before, and it does provide some relief. But the moment I start catching up on current events again, I immediately start sinking back into that quagmire of dread that I was neck-deep in before.
This seems to suggest that ignorance really is bliss. Surely I’d be happier if I didn’t know about most of the utterly depressing things happening in the country, right? Well, that’s debatable… A friend of mine has made it a point of not keeping up on current events since the 2016 election, and when Roe vs. Wade was recently struck down, she was dumbstruck. Everyone knew it was coming except her, and I don’t want to be that out of the loop. I need time to anticipate and accept the horrible things coming our way, precisely so they don’t push me even further down into the depressive muck.
Another corner of my brain usually stands up and chimes in at this point. “None of this really matters, y’know. It’s all pointless. All this bad stuff is temporary. So is all the good stuff. You’ll likely be gone in 20-ish years, so you won’t be around to see things get better/worse anyway. Who cares? Embrace the pointlessness and absurdity of it all, and stop giving so much of a shit about stuff you can’t control.” Then it realizes everyone else is staring, and promptly sits down again.
Social media is another vector for dread, but it’s arguably easier to cut back on than the news. I’ve done many Facebook fasts where I deactivate my account for 2-3 months just for a bit of a reset, but I always come back for various reasons. It’s easily the most toxic and dangerous of the social media services, and yet it’s the one I can’t seem to completely let go of. I hate that it has this hold on us, because it’s clearly become an unhealthy part of our lives. Some people have managed to leave it, but not nearly enough to drag the rest of us along. My husband actually quit Facebook a few years ago and swears he’s happier for it, so maybe I should follow his example. (He’s still on Instagram though, which he enjoys much more than Facebook.)
Surely there must be a healthy balance between willful ignorance for sanity’s sake and doom-scrolling out of boredom because you can’t seem to stop poking that sore spot. I’m going to try reading the headlines and social media once a day each, and seeing how that goes. (The exception will be TikTok, because I’ve finally trained that damn algorithm to show me amusing vids I can watch in small bursts vs. the firehose of absolute garbage that made me give up on it a few times before. I still have a draft blog post titled “TikTok is annoying as fuck” which I guess I won’t have to use now!)