April 22, 2013

Less Angry After Turning Off the Cable News

Ben Affleck at the MSNBC studios on the set of...
Ben Affleck at the MSNBC studios on the set of The Rachel Maddow Show (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I started an experiment of sorts back in December of 2012. I turned off the cable news I had been watching nightly (mostly the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC). I missed it for a few days but have not watched it since. I stopped writing my politically oriented blog in January and opted not to renew the domain. In the same month, I gradually stopped watching the only other television news program I had been watching nightly - the PBS NewsHour. I have watched it maybe three times since then. And finally, I stopped reading the large collection of political blogs and websites I have in my RSS reader. These changes have had a real impact, some of which was quite unexpected.

Admittedly, I do somewhat less informed about current U.S. and international news. But only somewhat. I manage to pick up quite a bit from NPR, Twitter, and the atheist blogs I read. It has actually been a bit of a surprise to discover that I do not feel much less informed than I do.

I have also discovered that I relate to news stories much differently than I used to. Much of the news I used to consume was so opinion-laden that I was usually asking myself whether I agreed with the opinions being expressed instead of focusing on the actual news. Now I find myself directly engaging the facts of the news and deciding what I think about it without having to deal with all the outside opinion, pundits, analysts, and other garbage.

But the biggest surprise of all, one I never would have predicted, is that I feel much less angry than I used to. I sleep better, ruminate less, and actually feel happier. I am more patient and compassionate in my interactions with others, and I find myself far less likely to put people into rigid categories based on the political labels they use to describe themselves. To be sure, I still encounter plenty of stories that upset me, but I find that these feelings rarely last long or become points of obsession.

I have decided that I am definitely better off without cable news. While I will likely return to the PBS NewsHour at some point, I do not see myself watching it nightly like I used to. I may tune in if there is a particular story about which I'd like to learn more, but that will be about it. And I have no plans whatsoever to watch Maddow or any other cable news again. I truly suspect that one of the functions of cable news in the U.S. has become one of keeping viewers in a constant state of outrage where it is easier to manipulate them. This resembles fundamentalist religion far too closely for my taste, and so I'll continue to opt out.

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