It is at a very strange time that I am reading Rolf Dobelli’s book, Stop Reading the News- A Manifesto for a Happier, Calmer and Wiser life. It is at a time when most of the world is under some form of lockdown, all of us socially distancing ourselves and stepping out only when needed. The actual connection to life outside and the world outside then is through the news. I scan the news on my mobile, watch the news channels and the debates, and for the sake of nostalgia go outside and get the physical newspapers when I buy my essentials, since newspaper home-deliveries have obviously stopped.
Yes, the irony is not lost on me. I’m talking about a book that is telling us to stop reading the news, at a time when we are most eager to know the latest updates about the unprecedented pandemic that has gripped modern society in its clutches. But, Rolf Dobelli, is one of the most respected thinkers and the author of best-seller self-help books such as The Art of Thinking Clearly, and The Art of the Good Life. Hence, the book and the concept come from a highly reputed and credible source. Worth considering right?
The book begins by Rolf explaining how he used to be a chronic news consumer and how he gradually changed his views. Over the next 35 chapters, all really compact, simple to follow and research-based, he puts forth his arguments against consuming news in the way it is offered today. He also gives alternatives to “knowledge and understanding” that we assume we get when we read or watch the news.
What I want to talk about are just three of his arguments that gave me some food for thought. While the book presents substantiated research on many more points including these, here’s just a little sampler.
Comprehension and deep-understanding require time. News is normally presented in snippets and you don’t really get any kind of in-depth analysis and multiple viewpoints. Online news is worse since you’ll probably be doing what I would like to call “hyper-link hopping”, as you scan the news on your phone or laptop! Will this lead to a deeper understanding of the issue at hand? Not at all!
I love this term that Rolf has coined. If you have seen News Channels where people from different walks of public life are called for to give opinions and discuss and debate the issue at hand, you’ll perfectly understand what a ‘bubbling opinion volcano’ means. People will loudly give opinions on everything, often with little information, or at a very early stage in the matter.
Even with little information, that may not be in-depth we feel compelled to give opinions on everything. News encourages this entire system of opinion bubbling volcanoes. It’s refreshing to hear the author assure us that we do not really need to form an opinion on everything that is happening around us, just because it is on the news, and definitely not with half-baked and shallow information.
I feel anxious and worried when I read most of the news because more often than not, news is negative right? So, I totally agreed with this entire chapter, even before reading the research that supports his point about how news impacts our physical and psychological health. Yes, it increases anxiety, panic attacks, emotional desensitization and tunnel vision.
Now these points are just the tip of the iceberg, and I would urge you to read this book since the arguments are really compelling.
So, have I changed my views after reading this book? Yes and no. I’m not off the news completely as yet, but I think how this book has really helped me is by driving home strongly the point that news consumption has to be mindful and not given too much importance. I’ve changed the way I consume news and I’m trying to rely more on longform journalism and non-fiction books to enhance my understanding of the world. So yes, it has definitely convinced me that when you Stop Reading the News, it does lead to a Happier, Calmer and Wiser life!