Media Fasting

Ant Farm’s Media Burn

For the last year I’ve been trying, as an experiment, to see what it would be like to cut off the news. That means no newspaper, no Google news, no NPR, no broadcast television of any kind.

At the beginning of my media fast, I was concerned that I would somehow lose touch with reality, with important details of what’s going on in the world. In fact, some news does reach me, filtered through conversations with friends and family. And I have, thanks to local blogs, kept in touch with some neighborhood news. But the torrent of irrelevant details on the scandals, murders, wars and political intrigue of modern life no longer cross the threshold of my consciousness.

Yes, as citizens of whatever country we find ourselves in, we have a duty to be engaged in political change.  But I believe that most of us are better off focusing on politics at the local level where our voices can actually make a difference. I really like the stoic flowchart Mark Frauenfelder posted on BoingBoing some time ago. It works really well for deciding if a particular political situation is worth paying attention to:

I want to be abundantly clear that I am not a Luddite.  Communications technology, especially the internet, have an important role in making this world a better place. But we have the power to be the gatekeeper of that information. What we feed into our higher consciousness has the power to change ourselves and the world for the better.

If you’ve tried a media fast, or disagree completely with the concept, leave a comment.

Inspiration for my media fast came from an episode of the C-Realm podcast–an interview with Neal Kramer, entitled “Grasp the Nettle.

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19 Comments

  1. It’s hard for me to go on an extended media fast because I work in the media – but I believe the idea is a good one. My weekends are pretty media-free, as are my vacations. I’ve been thinking about politics lately because I am somewhat of a political junky. While I tend to look down on people who are obsessed with sports because I think sports are unimportant and a waste of time, I am starting to realize that national politics are equally as bad. By blaming my problems on a particular politician or party and obsessing about election stats, etc, I end up using it as an escape from actually doing things to improve my situation.

  2. That is the exact stance i take on the media. I listen to a few instructional and entertaining podcasts but after one too many child was hut badly in east Texas and overpaid useless waste of space had her dog manicured story i was just done. i still occasionally listen to NPR in the car but overall i just dont bother with the news. Its all sensationalist garbage.

  3. I started media fasting when I had severe post partum depression 6 years ago and I’ve never looked back. I notice a huge surge in anxiety and general surliness when I do end up checking out a newspaper (rare) or listening to some news on the radio (also rare). I feel like I have been able to stay engaged with the world on deeper ways – lots of community service and activities, lots of advocacy work for causes important to my heart, craftivism for local and international causes, lots of rallying for food security locally and beyond. Social media like facebook (and blogging) keeps me abreast as much as I choose to be, for example – my kids and I watched some of the Egypt protests on al-jazeera and I’m glad we shared that moment-but I like feeling the capacity to be selective and to focus on things that I can do something about. It’s really about staying grounded and happy for me, which makes me an effective human being.

  4. I like the concept in theory, but I think that without knowing more about what’s going on in the world we can’t know how our choices are affecting others.

    If you don’t know that eating GMO corn contributes to world hunger, or that some company you support (work for, buy from) is doing really unethical things with overseas investments, etc, you can be doing harm to vulnerable people and not know it.

    Of course, this is hardly info you’d get from the nightly news – I wonder if there’s a way to classify learning about social justice and human rights issues vs. being up to date on every murder, shark attack, meningitis outbreak, and cute puppy story they can dredge up.

  5. I had my first media fast when I was in the Peace Corps, in Ecuador. Peace Corps Volunteers were all given Newsweek magazines to keep abreast of current events (I’m not sure if this is still the case), though I don’t remember how regularly they came. But it was a breath of fresh air to be out of the country during the OJ Simpson trial!!!

    I still travel extensively and don’t miss the news one bit. I’m amazed by how much I am still able to pick up about the most pressing global concerns – mostly natural disasters and politics. I feel I’m reasonably well informed, but if I go a week or two without checking headlines, I’m not that much further behind, particularly about the really big events.

    I think it is important to be informed, but with today’s news cycle we end up with vast quantities of minutia and opinions instead of actually becoming educated about what matters.

  6. I went on a television fast a little over a year ago purely because of cost considerations. I had a home phone/intArwebz/cable TV combo deal through my cable company, my initial trial period was ending, and my rates were about to skyrocket. I canceled the home phone and cable TV all together and now I only have internet access. I have to say that killing your television REALLY stops a torrent of useless negative energy from flowing into your life. I’ve been much better off because of it! Great post, btw! :)

  7. Instead of a media fast, I try to balance the ideas I pick up from the online polemics with some practical work. Humanure is powerful stuff.

    Following the flow chart, you can end up in the “Don’t Worry Be Happy Camp”.

  8. I’d describe my attitude toward the news media as “avoid, mostly”. I occasionally read the above-the-fold portion of the front page of the paper when walking by a newspaper box, will read a specific story if posted to the intertubes by someone I respect, will read about a news item of particular interest if I hear about it through other channels. And I won’t forego sitting with my wife just because she’s watching the news on television — although I will tend to schedule my household chores during the news and spend time with her when the news is done.

    That’s not quite a fast, but it’s close. Like you, I’ve found that I still have a reasonably good idea of what’s going on in the world without getting caught up in it. I’m curious –what other almost-but-not-quite-fasting (news or other) media consumption patterns do folks have?

  9. I will be honest as someone who works in the media industry that there is pressure to find a story that gets attention. And even though we’re not technically supposed to interject our views into regular editorial content, it happens. It’s a 24 hour news cycle and often shortcuts are taken in exchange for entertainment value. It’s not that anyone should be ignorant to what’s going on, but don’t let it make you feel like everything is hopeless. Our polls, surveys and editorial commentaries don’t determine the future; they’re best guesses. I take media fasts every once in a while whenever it starts to affect my attitude.

  10. I really enjoy keeping up with the news, but I try to take it with a grain of salt – realizing that all outlets are going for the eye-grabbing story that may not be representative of what is going on in the country at the moment. Healthy living advocate Dr. Andrew Weil once recommended not so much a media fast, but a delay in getting news, using weekly magazines as your source, to protect against the angst some feel as they read current news.

    In the US it seems that we don’t focus enough on what is happening internationally. Friends visiting from other countries frequently express shock regarding how little is presented about serious situations in their countries, in the news media.

  11. I’m a Daoist… this is right up my alley. I’m of the school that one should do what compells you and if it causes stress, anxiety, sorrow and anger, then one should either flow clear from it or learn to love the bomb.

  12. i went to africa in dec. I did not have a news outlet for 17 days. I usely am a news junky, to tell the truth i did not miss it

  13. Hello,

    Great posting.. Yes I have also minimized sources of news. I review many sources, then track the ones that I find to be most trustworthy..I find Democracy Now (website, daily-newscast) to be an excellent source. I have also come to the conclusion that one needs to be careful with the news from NPR.. This source seems to have evolved into an arm of corporate media and the US government….I think of NPR as….National Party Radio, or National Propaganda Radio….Paul 2012

  14. My family went tv/media free over a decade ago. We are still tv free, but do try to stay abreast of local issues via internet news. We are now very adept at filtering what we want to expose ourselves too, scanning headlines for applicable local news or an uplifting human interest story. Learning to focus on the positive helped our family tremendously.
    @Trish-many of our international friends say the same thing! They think Americans are very self-centered and it is true if you look at the news!

  15. I have not had any sort of regular TV access in the past 4 years. At that time, we had it because my sister wanted the toddler to have Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street available. The 6 years before the baby was born were TV-free as well. I don’t miss it. Between Netflix and the Internet I get plenty of entertainment. And I can’t stand listening to talk/news on the radio, so no NPR for me.

    Most of my news comes to me distilled through my friends list on LJ (including several Twitter feeds and syndicated RSS feeds like this blog), my beekeeping/farm bureau newsletters, and the forums over at Ravelry’s LSG group (yes, my knitting forums give me the news). There’s obviously a bias in the filter, mostly in an environmentally friendly, socially liberal end of the spectrum. When I find something that looks too sensationalist to be true, I’ll seek out additional sources to try and get a better feel for what’s really going on. My focus with politics lately has been to vote whenever possible for those things I feel educated enough about to support/deny. On a bigger picture level, I’ve been working on funneling my time and energy into business models I feel are sustainable, even if it means my lifestyle doesn’t [from the outside view] appear to keep up with the Joneses. I’m trying to put my money and my sweat where my mouth is, and that includes donating to charitable organizations that I feel are doing things well, like Kiva and Water.org.

    Current media reporting on the federal state of affairs just makes me depressed and hopeless – but then, I’ve known how broken the system was since I read “Life Without Lawyers” before Obama was elected, so it’s all just more of the same for me most of the time.

  16. Great post! We’ve also been gradually implementing this at home and on the blasted LA commute. The wife and I already don’t watch TV, but our media saturation still felt really heavy even though we only listen to public radio. One thing I’ve been doing is to substitute the previous news listening time with nothing but gardening, DIY, or constructively-centered podcasts and radio shows as a rule, and I’m realizing that not only does it do wonders for the mood overall, but that I’m now learning all sorts of great stuff in free time that I didn’t realize that I had (i.e. the commute).

  17. Good post and I enjoyed reading the comments.

    I also have been TV-free for over 10 years – it’s a real jolt to be exposed to it when visiting friends and relatives. What passes for news and entertainment is truly appalling…Yikes!

    I’ve done media fasts in the past and found I was more relaxed and happy generally. I stopped listening to news on the way into work and arrived in a much better frame of mind. Now I listen almost exclusively to classical radio throughout the day and get my news via the Internet. I like that better because I make the choice of when and how I receive it rather than the day-long blast from radio or TV. If I hear something interesting @ the top of the hour, I can pursue it later – or not…

    Even if you’re a newshound, it’s worthwhile to take a break and come back to the news cycle with fresher perspective for having been away.

    Thanks for the post.

  18. We don’t always recognize how much our own thoughts are contending with the wall of noise coming in through our senses and rattling around in our head.

    I always come back to the metaphor of my mind as a pond. Input stirs it up; constant, chaotic input stirs it to an unnavigable froth. Input takes time to work its way through. I expect it’s simply the nature of brain biochemistry.

    If I read half a dozen news articles, or watch a movie, I find my mind occupied by what I put in it for some time afterwards. To some extent this is involuntary. I can try to redirect my thoughts, but I will still be somewhat distracted by what I’ve put into my head until my mind has finished processing it to whatever minimal extent it demands.

    A few years back we took what amounted to a media fast – or perhaps I should call it a media ‘starvation diet’.

    We quit our jobs and spent about 1 1/2 years traveling out of the US. Most of the time we did not have regular internet access. We certainly didn’t have TV, and often very intermittent access to English language radio.

    At first we felt the withdrawal. I in particular found myself antsy. ‘News’ is stimulation. So I had a response that was in part just crabbiness as we shifted away from the interrupt-driven existence that seems to characterize modern western life.

    It was also election year in the US, and we suddenly found ourselves in a position where we didn’t even know what was going on there.

    But as the weeks and months rolled on, we got used to the lack of ‘news’, and found that – by and large, we heard about pretty much everything we needed to know to make our day-to-day decisions. Occasionally picking up a local paper, tuning into the public radio every few days, asking questions of people in towns – all of these kept us perfectly well informed about weather, and road conditions, and crime or local emergencies.

    By the end of our 4 months in New Zealand, we felt comfortably distanced from the US news. It was kind of a relief to be far enough away psychologically to recognize that no amount of our anxiety was going to have an effect on the outcome. It was also refreshing to see the US from the outside as just another country among countries.

    And our attention spans increased. We became less divorced from the physical world around us. Living out of a van on the edge of the ocean, listening to birds, observing the tides. I found myself finishing books as easily as I did when I was a child, no longer impatient for new and different stimulation after reading a dozen pages.

    Now we’ve been back for awhile, and I’ve gone back to what I would have considered ‘normal’ before our trip. I’m not exactly happy about it, but it’s a lot harder to manage distancing myself from media without the contrived barrier of dislocation.

    Television is not my curse; the internet is the monkey on my back. The answer is to spend less time at the computer, but that’s contrary to the nature of my profession. There’s all sorts of interesting questions to explore about the balance between cerebral and manual activity, and about observation vs active creation, and about mental engagement vs passive absorption.

    Maybe the main lesson here is to learn to recognize that we are surrounded by ever-more sources of inner discord, and that they are not necessarily vital to our existence, and that we have the ability to disconnect ourselves for our own good.

    Zeke

  19. Thank you so much, all of you, for sharing your experiences. I’m so glad to hear so many experiences similar to our own. Erik posted this, but he is enjoying a media-free weekend out in the desert (learning adobe finish techniques, no less. All hail appropriate tech!) and will be thrilled when he comes back to find all these great comments.

    For myself, I’ll agree with Zeke above that the internet is the monkey on my back. Forgoing TV and radio is easy enough (‘specially since so much of it is complete and total crap), but when you have to work on a computer every day, and when you communicate to the world via the internet, as I’m doing right now, it’s hard not to sink into a lot of mindless click-click-clicking. It’s a problem I’m aware of, but I haven’t yet found a good solution.

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