Help! Am I too switched on or too withdrawn? Or both?

What a conundrum

Sometimes it seems you can’t do anything right. On the one hand we have the excellent Mr. Money Mustache saying, “you need to get the news out of your life, right away, and for life.” On the other, an apparently interesting book written by intelligent people tells us we’re getting something called the wellness syndrome from trying too hard to be healthy. Don’t pay attention to the wider world: the news is distorted, pessimistic and unrealistic. But don’t pay attention to yourself, either: you’ll become inward-looking and narcissistic. So what are we supposed to do?

Now, the news is actually something I want to come back to in my next post (taster here); for now I’ll just say I’ve never had any patience with the idea that we shouldn’t listen to the news because it will depress us, as if we’re too psychologically vulnerable to be burdened with a knowledge of current affairs. Oh yes, poor little us! The people who’re actually involved in whatever’s going on don’t have a choice in the matter, of course – let’s hope they’re not so self-pitying.

Actually, though, when people talk about keeping up with what’s going on they often don’t mean that kind of news at all. A lot of the time they mean one of three things: showbiz and celebrities, the latest TV series or box set, or social media. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things (except the first), but they don’t increase your knowledge of the real world.

So what about the other point: are we too wrapped up in ourselves? I haven’t read The Wellness Syndrome, but it looks as though Cederström and Spicer are saying we sometimes get so carried away tracking our activity levels, counting calories and monitoring the minutiae of our own lives that we forget the outside world. I can see the logic in that. I’d even add that a lot of the things people do to protect their health are based on unproven or even completely erroneous premises. I’m thinking superfoods, huge quantities of antioxidants, homeopathy, non-vaccination – the list goes on.

Another problem is that some things help us kid ourselves we’re engaged and making a difference when we’re not. This tends to happen online. For example, a few weeks ago I received a Facebook petition to sign if I opposed the Taliban’s attempts to stop girls getting an education. Of course I oppose them, but I didn’t sign because a petition’s not going to make the Taliban change its stance.

Not only that, but if we reason we’ve already done our bit online we might be less motivated to make a difference in real life. The Internet may be ablaze with activity, but in the non-virtual world plenty of things are being neglected: low voter turnout is making it easier for crackpots and racists to get into national parliaments; charities are always crying out for funds and volunteers; hospitals are permanently short of blood donors (not that they’ll take British blood, because they think we’re a CJD risk, mutter, mutter, mutter…). Any one person’s contribution is tiny, but voting and donating money, time or blood do make a difference and do need to be done. Online petitions, on the other hand, haven’t reduced the world’s problems, just caused e-signature inflation.

I think we should keep ourselves informed of what’s going on in the world. I absolutely cannot agree that most people these days are too well-informed – I’d say just the opposite. In my view the main problem with 24-hour news is that it gives us too little information, not too much: it repeats the same superficial, initial reactions on a loop, ad nauseam. Social media and celebrity gossip, meanwhile, are just for fun – they have nothing to do with being informed about the things that matter. Who cares if you know about a blue and black/white and gold dress?

Try to rid yourself of the feeling that you have to keep up with ephemeral trivia. Use the time and brain space you get back for something sensible, enjoyable, or both. Learn about the news, I mean the real stuff. Spend time with your family. Look after your health properly, not with fads and quack fixes. And if you want to help a good cause, do something real.

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3 thoughts on “Help! Am I too switched on or too withdrawn? Or both?

  1. I definitely agree with you, and I think it stems from people being afraid of being out of the loop when they feel like everyone else is in the loop. One thing though is I think online petitions can have a positive effect. The university I went to recently decided it wanted to “rebrand” itself and create a new name. It spent more than £100,000 just on the planning and was going to spend a lot more before some students started an online petition.

    It was directly because tens of thousands of people signed it that the principal decided to hold a forum on rethinking the decision and then decided to not go through with it. I agree with you that the Taliban isn’t going to stop operating because of a petition but maybe that kind of petition can at least show that a lot of people are against it, if only to make a stand of solidarity. I agree that there are a lot of petitions flying around and it can seem overwhelming but I think they can make a difference!

    Sorry to just focus on disagreeing with you on that one point, this is a great post and I wish more people thought like this!

    • Hello, Astroism. Thanks very much for your post – please excuse me for taking so long to approve it and reply, things have been very busy in the NGWTF household this last week. And there’s no need to apologise for disagreeing with me, debate is part of the point of this blog! 🙂

      On the subject of online petitions, perhaps what your example shows is that they’re more likely to have an effect if the people who organise and sign them are connected to the issue in question. I can imagine that the petition you mentioned would have made the principal stop and question the planned change – and you’re right, that’s something I hadn’t considered before writing this post, so thank you for pointing it out. My own opinion is that when petitions are organised and signed by people far removed from the issue concerned they become little more than opinion surveys, and because there are so many of them they just become part of the digital background noise.

      Always good to have sensible, intelligent debate, including (especially?) when opinions differ. Thanks again for your comment!

      Caroline

  2. Pingback: Whatever happened to proper news? | Not Going with the Flow

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