I have been a news junkie almost all my life. I’ve read a daily newspaper since grammar school, progressing from comics to sports to the front page. I was the first one in my family to get up in the morning, so I was the first to fetch the newspaper from the driveway.
Since then, my addiction has only grown. These days I listen to radio news, watch television news and read multiple newspapers. I try to keep up on all the articles friends send me via email. I have excused all this by saying it’s part of my work, that I am trying to get different perspectives and discover different stories.
I read a real ink-stained paper first thing in the morning, and I read a digital one last thing before bed most nights. In between is Twitter and news feeds and Lester Holt.
I tell you this so you can understand how unusual it was for me to take a news fast recently. I went for more than 48 hours without hearing the news, seeing the news, reading the news.
I felt great.
For 48 hours, my frustrations decreased and my mood improved. It was revelatory. The first day I’d twitch a bit every time my phone vibrated with a news alert, but I managed not to read any of them. The second day went even more smoothly. The question now is: Will I do it again?
More and more people I run into are telling me they are taking steps of their own to prevent “chronic news funk,” a first-world pathology whose symptoms consist of anger, depression and despair generated by too high an exposure to current events.
This is not a new disease. Both a pastor and a family counselor told me several years ago that spouses (usually wives) were complaining that their husbands were in perpetually angry moods, and it was affecting their relationships. The reason: Obama-era news funk due to hours spent watching Fox News. After one election, the priest even preached on the dangers of all this anger.
Now we are seeing Trump-era news funk: hours upon hours of MSNBC and CNN, or The Washington Post and The New York Times.
But it isn’t just presidential upset. Stories about corruption, sex abuse and tortured children, police and civilian shootings, mingle with scientific studies predicting catastrophes on a personal or global scale. It feels as if our world is convulsing with disasters.
Worse still is that what passes for news is often commentary, and what passes for commentary is little more than ad hominem attacks. The sewer that is social media only makes all of this worse.
Citizens have a duty to be informed, but that is a far cry from obsessing over the latest horrors or the latest stupidities.
As I try to decide how far to take my news-free experiment, a Jewish friend suggested recovering the Sabbath. We Catholics can make Sunday a real day of rest. Pope Francis would agree. In the new documentary “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word,” the pope says we need a day set aside to worship God and focus on those we love. “We are not machines,” he tells us.
For other ideas, go to a website called itstimetologoff.com. It has lots of suggestions for freeing ourselves from technology, including a “five days on, two days off” approach.
Finally, ban all screens from the bedroom. This used to apply only to televisions, but now it includes phones, tablets and laptops. Who knows, maybe even newspapers too.
It’s time to start dreaming again.
Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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