It was the leaves that did me in. Leaves. After years of the news (especially our local news) becoming more and more ridiculous, sensational, and downright bonkers in the never-ending quest for ratings, it was blowing leaves that finally got me to turn it off for good.
Leaves, you say? Why leaves? Backstory… I live in an area known for bad weather. Topical storms, tornadoes, thunderstorms, ice, snow… You name it, we get it. It has the potential to get ugly and the news always seizes on it. All day coverage is normal here. And, admittedly, it can be helpful when the poop really does hit the fan. But all too often these days it’s just another ratings grab. And that’s where the leaves come in.
We were forecast to get the remains of a tropical system. That can go sideways if it doesn’t lose strength, or if the eye goes in the wrong direction, so some caution is warranted. But this time, nothing happened. Nothing other than a bit of non-severe wind and some drizzle. The storm blew out early and it was a dud. But that didn’t stop Heart Attack News at 5. Oh, no. Instead of simply saying, “We got lucky,” and signing off, they pre-empted the entire day’s programming to stay on the air and “keep you safe!” Safe from what?
Oh, right. The leaves. The news station sent their massive, gas-guzzling truck behemoth out into the storm to find some damage. Any damage. (And the souped up weather truck is another pet peeve. They tell us to stay home in bad weather, the cops beg us to stay home in bad weather, but yet the news goes driving around creating a hazard all on their own. Not to mention wasting gas when all they’re doing is driving around on a drizzly day when nothing is happening. But that’s a gripe for another post.)
Anyway, after driving around most of the day, the reporter finally found a spot where a big gust of wind had blown through. Not enough to blow off a roof or knock down a tree, mind you. Nothing resembling actual damage. Nothing that would impede traffic or hurt anyone in any way. Nope, what she found was some leaves in the road. But yet she jumps out of the truck, sets up a live shot, and proceeds to tell us about all the “damage and debris in the road” in a dramatic voice full of urgency. We clearly needed to flee for our lives from the leaves!
That was it. That was the moment that the news went out for me. I sat there asking myself, “What the hell am I watching? Why am I wasting precious life time on this? This woman is trying to convince me that leaves are somehow a big damn deal and I’m not buying it. She’s just dramatizing for no reason.” Finally, I saw the light.
I should have turned it off long before, but I used to really enjoy the news and was slow to admit that it was no longer the news of my youth. As I noted above, I haven’t been oblivious to the changes in news over the years, but part of me existed in denial. I convinced myself that the benefits were still greater than the negatives, that being informed was somehow worth whatever other damage was being done to my brain. It took the leaf saga to finally make me see just how wrong I was.
As a kid, I loved the times we would do current events in school. If you’re of an age, you might remember having to cut articles out of the paper, bring them into class, and discuss them. I loved that stuff. I enjoyed seeing what my classmates would bring in. What did they think was interesting and important? Moreover, what did the papers think was worth publishing in the first place?
But in an age with infinite space for news, curation has gone out the window. Anything that might be remotely interesting gets space, no matter how stupid and useless it may be. There’s no longer an evaluation of what is truly important information and what is just noise. And in the fight for eyeballs, anything is fair game and the more outlandish or controversial the better. While there are arguments to be made that increased access to information is a good thing, there’s a bigger argument that information overload (under which we live today) is not good for us.
We simply have no need to be assaulted with as much information as we are today, and most of it does nothing for us besides raise our blood pressure, jump start our anxiety, increase our sense of outrage, and make us fear and hate our neighbors for no good reason. It’s exhausting and damaging. Of course, the same argument can be made for much of TV these days, but the news seems to be hitting new lows faster than even primetime programming. It’s a neck and neck race to the bottom between the news, TV programming, and social media. I always thought social media was in the lead, but since much of social media is simply reposting and reacting to the news, I think I have to give the edge in the “worst of the worst” contest to the news.
Did anything change for me after the leaf saga? Sure did. I no longer watch TV news. If I need to know the weather (which, honestly, is just about the only thing on the news that ever impacts me directly), I have some reputable, scientific websites that explain it in non-sensational, factual ways and allow me to take it in at my own pace. For world news, I hit the BBC website once a day to check the headlines. I do the same for local news. I check the website once a day and that’s plenty. Most of the time I don’t even click on any articles because they are nothing but irrelevant clickbait designed only to inflame.
I now have more time to do other things. I’m not as stressed, either, and I’m not as prone to seeing others in a negative light for no reason. I’m less fearful and my anxiety, while still around, is at least reduced. My life is more peaceful and I’m better able to direct my energies at things I can control, rather than losing energy worrying about things that I can’t control and which don’t affect me.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t remain informed. In a fast-changing world it’s essential to remain informed about issues that matter to you. If there’s something you can do to change things for the better, being informed is a first step. But the news does not cover most of those issues in a meaningful way. You’re better off finding independent outlets that deal specifically with the issues you want to change. Or, gasp, reading actual detailed books or journals about those things and getting a wide range of thoughts and opinions.
It’s getting harder to sort out fact from fiction in all media, but I can almost guarantee that the news skews toward fiction these days. Or at least fails to deliver the whole truth. How many times do you see a story that delivers a scary headline, but yet they never follow up to tell you what really happened once the dust settled? Right. Because that’s not as interesting as scaring the crap out of you. Once it turns out that nothing really happened, it’s time to move on to the next scary thing, not dissect why nothing happened, or why it didn’t really matter after all.
Basically, I’ve finally realized that the news needs to come with a warning label: Watch at your own risk to your mental health.
(Image courtesy of Alexas_Fotos)