I distinctly remember my high school Sociology teacher commenting that research showed that older people tend to have a more negative view of the world because they spend a disproportionate amount of time watching the evening news. Since the evening news tends to focus on what is wrong in society, it made sense that the more you watched it the more negative you might become.
My grandpa was like this – when he and my grandma would visit (or we would visit them) I remember that he would watch the local news at 5pm, followed by the national news, followed by the local news (again, but on a different channel at 6pm) and then the local news one last time again at 10pm. This was in addition to him reading the daily newspaper. I don’t think I would necessarily say he had a negative view of society as a result, but he could certainly tell you what he saw as wrong in the world with headline examples.
Through my kid eyes, I was surprised at how much time he spent watching the news and I thought it was silly to see the same stories repeated again and again. Since I wanted to change the channel to catch reruns of Star Trek or Happy Days, it was painful to have to sit through the same news over and over.
That was in the 1970s – now we live in the world of the 24 hour news cycle where we have even exponentially MORE news streaming at us with multiple news channels broadcasting non-stop on the TV, radio, and online. Social media magnifies the news even more as many use Facebook and Twitter to post articles and put our own editorial spin on the daily news. It’s no wonder that people continue to see the world as a scarier place than ever, even as violent crime and war have declined dramatically over the last 20+ years (good Pew research study on this phenomenon HERE).
Now that I’m retired, I find myself consuming more news than ever. I don’t have a set schedule, but I record the NBC Today Show and the ABC Evening News daily and catch part of each when I can. Sometimes I watch on the treadmill in the morning while I also catch up on email. Throughout the day I also check out Google News on my MacBook or iPhone, depending where I am at. (We did cancel our Sunday paper subscription recently).
Maybe it’s the craziness of this year’s presidential campaign which is like watching a train crash in slow motion, but I also find myself being more “evangelical” in my social media when it comes to posting articles about politics. While I try not to be too partisan or obnoxious, I’m sure I am way too outspoken for some of my friends. I try to make fun of both major party candidates, although I probably pick on one more than the other.
The funny thing about the 24-hour news cycle is how addictive it can be. It seems like the more you watch, the more you want to see. Since most issues are complex, they have a never-ending number of angles, statistics, and perspectives that draw you into watching more about them. Additionally, the volume of media is increasingly weighted toward opinion and editorial. There is a lot less just straight facts and objectivity in reporting. (I once saw the USA Today weather page report Minneapolis as “Much Too Cold”. I thought, now we are editorializing the weather?!)
While on the surface it seems virtuous to be up to speed on current events, it’s not exactly the most important way I could probably spend my time. If we’re really honest with ourselves we’d acknowledge that most of what is reported is hugely irrelevant to our daily lives and decision making. Even the presidential election is a bit irrelevant to my life as our state (Minnesota) is so small and left-leaning that neither of the candidates spend ANY time worrying about the outcome here. Whether you like love or despise her, it is a lock that HRC will carry away our electoral votes regardless of how much you pimp or criticize her on Facebook.
I think it will take a while for me to completely “settle down” in my news habits in early retirement. While it certainly hasn’t taken over my day, I do know that I am spending more time thinking about politics and current events than I need to. I worry that if I am ramped up on watching the news in the summer, how bad might it get in the cold winter months? At least then this crazy election I’ll be over and we can get on with simply criticizing our new president 😉
How much focus do you put on the keeping up with the news? Has it gone up during the presidential election? How do you keep it in balance with the rest of your life?
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