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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Why I Try To Avoid News - Part I

Until February 2011, I used to follow news frequently. Reading teletext, watching news on TV in the evening, constantly hitting F5 on my favorite online news pages, waiting for updates in Google Reader ... I think I was close to being news-addicted. But then something happened that instantly gave me a tremendous amount of additional free time, plus a new perspective to perceive certain things. While the world passionately followed the events surrounding the Arab Spring, I kept my TV black and stopped following news for good.

Some people are quite surprised when I tell them about this decision and cannot imagine a single day without news. But how do you know about the latest elections? Don't you care about the poor child that was killed the other day? How will you know that the oil price is about to rise, we will be on the border to a collapse of the financial system, and the USA will attack Iran?

Well, there are a couple of reasons, so let me elaborate.

First of all, let me tell you why I initially started that experiment with myself. In the upcoming days, I will outline why I stayed with it ever since then.

It was in 2009 when I first got in touch with the idea of not following news, when I read Nassim Nicholas Taleb's generally inspiring, mind-provoking The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Even though his works deeply shaped my way of thinking about probability, randomness and other aspects until today, the idea of not following any news any more seemed quite rigid to me back then. However, the seed had been planted.

When in January and February 2011 the Egyptian masses started assembling on the Tahrir Square daily, I was totally bought by the happenings. Just nine months before, I had had a great time there myself, and now I followed the events from far away. Al-Jazeera live stream, Facebook, Blogs ... I was totally into this stuff, several hours a day. Eventually, the peaceful demonstrations where interrupted violently.
It is not too surprising that there were contrary reports about the reason for the both-sided violence. One side claimed that the protesters had started throwing stones; the other side claimed there were shots from the army, and the protesters had to defend themselves.
How can I verify one claim or the other, from a 2.000 km distance? What if both of the reporters are right, not only because politics demand the according report, but because they report what they really saw and experienced from their point of view?

Frustrated and depressed, I turned off Al-Jazeera, and didn't open it or any other news page ever since then again.

In the upcoming days, I will explain why I stayed with this approach, and what I think I gained from it.

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