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How to consume news

LiveMint logoLiveMint 26-06-2017 Sidin Vadukut

People consume way too much news. No, really. People are obsessed with news. They consume it from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep. They talk about it at work, to their families, to their children, and even to themselves when they are in the bath. It consumes their brains, pollutes every waking thought, contaminates every conversation and muddies every relationship. It makes them argue positions on issues that are not only too nascent to be opined upon, but are also matters on which they have virtually no information. News makes people feel that something they had no idea about till 5 minutes ago is responsible for every single problem in the history of human affairs.

And then 5 minutes later they have to start all over again because suddenly 10 kilos of fresh horrible news has landed on their mobile phones.

The news is so uniformly horrific that people suddenly sit up in the middle of lunch or a walk in the park and wonder: “Wait, why am I in a bad mood? I am not sure why. But something is bothering me.” And just like that, life and flowers and children and lakes and birds have passed them by because of the remnants of a bad mood that they no longer recall the reason for.

Please, readers, stop this at once. Let me help you consume news in a responsible fashion. These are some basic rules.

■ Do not start the day with news. Waking up to the news is 100% guaranteed to put you in a bad mood. Do whatever it takes to not corrupt the first hour or so of your waking day with news. Instead, work yourself towards it. Enjoy your coffee, revel in breakfast and so on before you plunge into the misery of current affairs.

■ Choose well-rounded doses of news. That way you don’t just end up reading 34 nearly identical articles on the latest terror attack, political scandal or celebrity meltdown. Also, a diverse dose of news prevents you from being stuck in one “emotional or sentimental” place. Why not try a nice daily news bulletin on the radio or via podcast? They usually have lots of little updates, with at least one or two things guaranteed to amuse.

■ Don’t confuse news with reactions to the news. I cannot stress this enough. A new and horrible piece of government policy is news. Amitabh Bachchan’s reaction to this news is not news. Anupam Kher’s reaction to Amitabh Bachchan’s reaction is even less so. And so on. There is almost no value in consuming the reactions that random people have to news. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor’s reaction to inflation is news. The RBI governor’s reaction to Baahubali is not.

■ If you consume the news as a conscientious action of some social value, then I am afraid the vast majority of news you consume does not help towards that cause. It is far easier to get mired in news and analysis about unemployment in, say, the US or Greece than in Mumbai or Kerala or wherever it is you live. Stepping away from the narratives that dominate on TV, internet and even much of print, may help you get closer to the issues that matter to the communities you are part of. How? Read on.

■ Like fruits and vegetables, consuming news produced locally is often more rewarding and good for you. If you can consume a newspaper in a non-English language, you may be surprised at how differently balanced the mix of content is. News is more than just information. It can, if you want it, make you a better citizen. Consume locally.

■ Feel free to completely ignore aspects of current affairs that you are not interested in. You may feel tremendous peer pressure to lap up every 6,000-word essay on Brexit or Syriza or the Barrier Reef. You don’t have to. Choose wisely, engage deeply, think critically. Similarly, don’t feel pressured to have an opinion on something in the news. Really.

■ Read something completely. A newspaper or magazine read from cover to cover is often vastly more engaging, useful and horizon-broadening than scrolling down a timeline reading exactly what 30 other people like you are reading.

■ It is humanly impossible to engage deeply with every single thing in the news. Choose one or two things you care about. And then engage deeply. Read books. Watch documentaries. Pursuing one thing deeply will make you wiser about many things.

■ Shamelessly use deferred reading apps like Pocket to save interesting links without reading them. Once a week or so, scan your list. Read a few things. Purge everything else.

■ Most of all, be kind and respectful to your brain. Treat it like you would treat your home or a temple or a sacred place. Control what goes in there with extreme prejudice. You have finite mental horsepower. Use it on things that are worth it.

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