As a way of giving ourselves a break from writing new Insights during the busiest portion of the summer it has become an annual tradition to repost this series on some of the various pitfalls of obsessively consuming news and information. These posts contain timeless wisdom that we constantly need to be reminded of, and we think they have become even more relevant over the past several years since first written in 2014. This is part three of four. Enjoy!
"Incorrect forecasts are not only useless they are harmful." – Rolf Dobelli
Two weeks ago we re-introduced a four part series on the negative effects of regular news consumption based on Rolf Dobelli’s research paper Avoid News: Towards A Healthy News Diet. In the first Insight entitled Brain Sugar we looked at five different dangers of regular news consumption including how it can be physically toxic to our bodies. In the second Insight entitled The Cost of Paying Attention we looked at five more dangers including how news can change the structure of your brain to be less focused. Today we look at the last five dangers from Dobelli’s research.
Danger #11: Reported facts are sometimes wrong, forecasts always
With the advent of technologies such as personal computers, smart phones, and the internet, the production of information/data has gone parabolic. Of all the data we have recorded since the beginning of time, 90% of that data has been produced in the past two years. With the massive amount of information being produced and reproduced, fact checking is something of a thing of the past as journalists, bloggers, and tweeters are more concerned about breaking a potentially “viral” news story than the accuracy of the information being presented.
Forecasts are even more harmful than misstated facts as they are wrong far more often than they are correct. To say that there is no accountability in pundit forecasts would be an understatement to say the least.
Did the newspaper predict World War 1, the Great Depression, the sexual revolution, the fall of the Soviet empire, the rise of the Internet, resistance to antibiotics, the fall of Europe’s birth rate or the explosion in depression cases? Maybe, you’d find one or two correct predictions in a sea of millions of mistaken ones. Incorrect forecast are not only useless, they are harmful. (Emphasis Dobelli’s)
Danger #12: News is manipulative
As we discussed in detail in our post entitled The Happiness Machine, the public relations industry is simply in the business of manipulation. This type of manipulative advertising presses buttons deep inside our human psyche and is extremely effective. To think that this type of manipulation hasn’t made its way into the news media would be naïve to say the least.
The public relations (PR) industry is as large as the news reporting industry – the best proof that journalists and news organizations can be manipulated, or at least influenced or swayed. Corporations, interest groups and other organizations would not expend such huge sums on PR if it didn’t work. If spinmeisters can manipulate journalists, who have a natural skepticism toward powerful organizations, what makes you think you can escape their trickery?
Danger #13: News makes us passive
In Stephen Covey’s famous book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he talks about two circles which contain our lives: the Circle of Concern and the Circle of Influence. The Circle of Concern is everything we are aware of and care about ranging from personal to global concerns. The Circle of Influence resides within the Circle of Concern and includes things we have the power to affect. Covey’s advice is to focus our energies on proactively changing things inside the Circle of Influence rather than those that reside only in the Circle of Concern.
News, on the other hand, is overwhelmingly about things we have no power to influence. The daily repetition of news about things outside of our control grinds us down until we become passive and fatalistic in our worldview.
If the human brain encounters a barrage of ambiguous information without being able to act upon that information, it can react with passivity and a sense of victimhood. The scientific term is learned helplessness. It’s a bit of a stretch, but I would not be surprised if news consumption at least partially contributes to the widespread disease of depression. Viewed on a timeline, the spread of depression coincides almost perfectly with the growth and maturity of the mass media.
Danger #14: News gives us the illusion of caring
One could argue that the reason it is important to keep up with the news because we are all one human race and therefore should care about what is going on around the world. Although the foundation of this argument is correct (we should care for others), the consumption of news about others doesn’t equate to actually caring for them.
“We may want to believe that we are still concerned, as our eyes drift from a news anchor announcing the latest atrocity to the NBA scores and stock market quotes streaming across the bottom of the screen. But the ceaseless bombardment of image and verbiage makes us impervious to caring.” - Kathleen Norris
Danger #15: News kills creativity
Creativity is born out of the exploration of the unknown. Therefore, things that are a known stifle creativity. This is one reason why children are often much more creative than adults. A child’s mind is free to explore, probe, and pursue novel ideas because they don’t know any better. As adults, we become conditioned to fall back on what we have “learned along the way,” which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (it is important to learn from our mistakes) but it can kill our creativity. The consumption of news simply reinforces our biases and things we already know, which therefore hinders our creativity.
I don’t know a single truly creative mind who is a news junkie – not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter. On the other hand, I know a whole bunch of viciously uncreative minds who consume news like drugs.
We hope that these last three Insights unpacking Dobelli’s research on the news have raised some important questions worth considering. At the root of it all, we must all understand that news outlets and the media in general are all in the business of making money rather than the more altruistic goal of creating a more informed public. Given this fact and the many potential drawbacks we’ve outlined to being a news junkie, we must ask ourselves if consuming news is improving our lives and the lives of those around us or if we would all be better off unplugging from it entirely? Maybe that is a bit extreme but then again, maybe it is just the ticket we all need for making our own lives and those around us more rewarding.
Author Elliott Orsillo, CFA is a founding member of Season Investments and serves on the investment committee overseeing the management of client assets. He spent nearly ten years as a financial analyst and portfolio manager working primarily with institutional clients prior to co-founding Season Investments. Elliott earned a bachelor's degree in Engineering from Oral Roberts University and a master's degree from Stanford University in Management Science & Engineering with an emphasis in Finance. Elliott and his wife Gigi have three children and like to spend their time outdoors enjoying everything the great state of Colorado has to offer.
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