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.