Breaking News (Habit)

My thoughts on “Stop Reading the News: A Manifesto for a Happier, Calmer and Wiser Life” where Rolf Dobelli makes a case for not reading or watching news

In the last few years, there has been a significant increase in the amount of news (and related analysis) generated. With the easy availability of 24/7 internet and ever accessible smart devices – every hour is news hour and we consume a lot more news than we were a few years ago. It makes us feel informed; it makes us feel in control; it makes us believe that we understand the world better (or won’t understand it as well otherwise) and hence make better decisions in life. Or do we?

In his book “Stop Reading the News: A Manifesto for a Happier, Calmer and Wiser Life”, author and thinker Rolf Dobelli argues that news is bad for our health and happiness, is a waste of time and hinders creativity and deep thinking. We should give up news completely.

He argues that news is irrelevant at best and misleading at worst. It feeds our cognitive biases and hampers critical thinking. It is mostly entertainment and does not add any real value to our lives. The content covered in news stories rarely reflects what is important to the reader; its sole purpose is attracting attention rather than educating the reader or bringing to their notice what is important or meaningful. The advertisement driven business model of news companies is based on serving an incessant stream of news stories so you are hooked and are spending more time on them. This gives them the opportunity to know more about you, so that their smart algorithms can serve more additive content. This also enables them to gather as much information about you as possible to have more targeted advertising. The way news is created and served, which is a consequence of this business model, results in it promoting hurried reading and shallow thinking – rather than deep thought and in-depth analysis.

While there are no significant benefits of spending time on news, there is a very consequential opportunity cost. Time spent on tracking news is time not spent on developing expertise in our “circle of competence”. We live in times where deep expertise in one “narrow” domain can result in disproportionate financial as well as non-financial rewards. You are much better off having deep knowledge of your chosen domain rather than knowing, in a shallow way, what is happening all around the world. This opportunity cost is too high to ignore.

If not news then what? For sure, we cannot close our eyes and ears to what is happening all around us. Rolf recommends focusing on well researched, long form articles and books that present deep analysis to help you understand the world better in all its complexities, and has useful insights. Focus on what is relevant and of interest to you. And if you must, restrict yourself to one news publication – that to for a limited time per week. Have allocated “news time” and stick to that. It would not be easy, but it’s worth it.

The news industry is society’s appendix – permanently inflamed and completely pointless

All self respecting journalists should steer clear of news journalism, just as no chef who takes pride in his work would start a career at McDonalds.

Also See: Rolf Dobelli’s Ted Talk: Four Reasons to Stop Watching the News

Stop Reading the News: A Manifesto for a Happier, Calmer and Wiser Life, published by Spectre in February 2020, is available for purchase here

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Trying to Understand India – Three Books You Must Read

The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru

There is no better book to understand the history of India. Right from the Indus valley civilization through the various phases of its history, it is truly a journey to discover India. Written by Jahawarlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, when he was imprisoned during India’s freedom struggle, this book was an effort by the leader to understand and chronicle the rich past of his country. 

Notable Quotes

“India has known the innocence and insouciance of childhood, the passion and abandon of youth, and the ripe wisdom of maturity that comes from long experience of pain and pleasure; and over and over again she has renewed her childhood and youth and age”

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Nothing captures post Independence India like Salman Rushdie’s seminal work – Midnight’s Children, which is probably the best book ever written about India. 

Notable Quotes

“‎No people whose word for ‘yesterday’ is the same as their word for ‘tomorrow’ can be said to have a firm grip on the time.”

“India, the new myth–a collective fiction in which anything was possible, a fable rivalled only by the two other mighty fantasies: money and God.”

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger is to post globalization India, what Midnight’s Children is to post colonial India. Aravind has such a fine understanding of the pulse of this new India, it almost make me jealous.  

Notable Quotes:

“Go to Old Delhi,and look at the way they keep chickens there in the market. Hundred of pale hens and brightly colored roosters, stuffed tightly into wire-mesh cages. They see the organs of their brothers lying around them.They know they are next, yet they cannot rebel. They do not try to get out of the coop. The very same thing is done with humans in this country.”

“The trustworthiness of servants is the basis of the entire Indian economy.”

“Do you know about Hanuman, sir? He was the faithful servant of the god Rama, and we worship him in our temples because he is a shining example of how to serve your masters with absolute fidelity, love, and devotion.

These are the kinds of gods they have foisted on us Mr. Jiabao. Understand, now, how hard it is for a man to win his freedom in India.”

Enjoy Reading!!