I’m trying something out and it only tangentially happens to correspond with the New Year. It looks like a resolution, but it’s not. Essentially, I’m going to unplug from most current events when at all possible.
This flies in the face of my normal desire to read and know about current events obsessively. I may not be a full fledged news junkie, but I definitely used to read two newspapers pretty extensively, and generally spend large chunks of time reading about current events. I even used to take daily notes of important events with the goal of being able to identify trends and analyze coverage, particularly longer running items like the 2008 Financial Meltdown or the Arab Spring. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that I was better off reading well researched books that came out a few months or years later. I enjoyed the treatment of the events better, they were more informative, and the coverage more balanced, and the whole experience was of course seasoned with hindsight.
This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but should yield the following benefits.
The idea had already been percolating a bit but was reinforced during the last few months of an international move where I literally didn’t have time to follow current events. The end result was I didn’t care that much. And I had a lot more time to devote to moving. Now I’ll have more time to devote to other things.
There’s a name for a phenomenon (that I don’t have time to research) where you read media coverage of an event or detailed subject which you know a lot about and realize that the article is inaccurate, missing important details, or misses crucial nuance. You smirk as you realize the reported missed the point or didn’t do the subject justice, then move on to the next article and trust they’re getting it right on all those other subjects on which you’re not an expert. I’d rather research things in a more classical manner and read books by experts, and challenge their ideas with research. None of this requires a newspaper subscription or online RSS reader.
A More Informed Citizen
The upcoming presidential election in the United States will probably be one of the biggest wastes of time and money since the last one. Here’s a great article that surfaced recently which sums up my opinions pretty well: the US political process is dominated by money (94% of the time the candidate with the most money wins) and both political parties are essentially the same. I’ve seen one blogger call them the Coke and Pepsi parties and I’m convinced it’s true. Both spend a lot of time telling you they’re different, but at the end of the day, most people wouldn’t be able to objectively tell. Certainly both parties are hellbent on remaining in power and enriching themselves. Both are consistently advancing positions that I greatly disagree with and won’t be able to affect by voting for one candidate over another. For damn sure I could never tell you (and I’d challenge you to honestly reflect for yourself) how one party affected my life compared to another to any measurable degree.
During the previous mid-term elections, I received a polling call that went through every single office and their attendant candidates that was up for election in South Florida, and asked if my choice as a voter would be affected by learning the following information. All of them had been convicted for some form of fraud, bribery, election campaign funds misappropriation, and more. The third party candidate calling me made a really good point: everyone in both parties is a criminal!
Ultimately, for the last two elections I’ve ended up spending an hour or so on Politifact for all non-national races, read the presidential candidate’s books, and talked to a few people I trust and made my decision. I’ve found that the above process educated me significantly more than the breathless campaign coverage I was reading every day.
A More Interesting Person
I’m not going to ignore current events – if people are talking about things that are happening, I’ll tell them I haven’t heard of the event, and they can explain it to me. It’s better than talking about the weather, it avoids me monologuing on my own opinions which can be a drag to others, and it’ll ultimately make things more interesting for both of us.
A Few Exceptions
I will still maintain a daily reading of technical, work related, and hobby related blogs. These are intensely interesting and enjoyable, and aren’t really focused around current events most of the time. I will also maintain a daily eye on the weather and train schedules because this is how I get to work. I will monitor financial and investment information, but will limit most decisions to being made in a minimum 3-5 year time horizon (which is what I do anyway) and not worry about current doom and gloom. Any substantive investment strategy should always assume gloom and doom by default and prepare for it, not react to the horrors of the day.
This is Not a New Idea
This is not a new or even novel idea. I’ve seen this discussed in the book “I Was Blind but Now I See” by James Altucher, I believe it’s referenced in “The Art of Nonconformity” by Chris Guillebeau, and when I really think about it, it’s how I lived the first 15 years of my life without internet access in Asia. I’m not really worried.
Updated 8 Jan 2011:
Updated thanks to a comment that just came in through email. The phenomenon I mentioned above was coined by Michael Chrichton and is the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect. He also mentioned this in an essay title “Why Speculate?” Thanks “jcs”!