The Covid Chronicles : The news overload syndrome

7:12 AM

Rewading news can stress you, find a good balance

Since this Coronavirus started, we've been bombarded with news, real fake, sensationalised, dramatic, optimistic, dooms day new, predicting the apocalypse and making us even more confused than we already were. 

Since the lockdown, many of us, stuck at home with no certainty of when we could ever get out again took to reading a lot more news than we would otherwise and I think it is safe to say it, absorbing that insane amount of news has lead to more anxiety, more paranoia, more fear, and probably sent many spiralling down a path of depression. 

The fact that news and media in general are written with the intent to trigger a reaction from people isn’t helping much either. 
Raise your hand if like me, you have spent the early days of the lockdown absorbing news from all sides, at any of time of day and night and felt even more confused, possibly angry and definitely upset about it. I know I reached a point at which I became irritable, snapped at anything and anyone and didn’t even have an outlet to get it all out because we were prohibited to step out to go for a walk or meet friends over coffee. 

This, ladies and gentlemen is the result of a news overload, believe it or not, there is such a thing as consuming too much information, and none of it is good. 
Sadly, our society also has conditioned us to think that being angry, outraged and ready to grab our pitchforks is equal to caring.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment :

We are lead to believe that we are caring individuals if we get worked up about an issue , any issue, to the point of hurling insults at anybody who doesn’t think the same way. We are convinced that if we aren’t angry about something we are devoid of feeling for a cause and therefore selfish and uncaring! 

How freaking twisted is that????????

How have we reached the point at which we saw it as morally right to twist our tummies into knots over everything. To the point at which if we see anything positive about a situation we are probably believed to psychopaths, or at the least considered ridiculous and naive. 

It’s sometimes at the end of April that I decided to pull the plug, and no longer read as much news anymore. Why? Because I’m not going to help anybody, myself included if I am a raging bitter snappy bitch. The only thing that it would achieve is making all those around me miserable, and affect my physical and mental well-being even more than the lockdown already is. 
Being kind and compassionate seems to be a far more constructive approach to this crisis than obsessing about the amount of death, discord and corruption this virus put into light. 
Acknowledging that it is a HUGE crisis is one thing, making yourself angry, hurt and upset over the news a whole different beast. 

Fortunately for me, years of reading self-help books, practising gratitude and believing in the law of attraction has made me realise what dangerous path I was spiralling downward to. 

“Your focus determine your reality”

It’s really that simple, and in the grand scheme of things, that is the ONLY thing I actually have control upon : my focus. 

So, I chose to give it to less dramatised media report, less hate inducing articles, less negativity, and more positive news. And believe me, there are some good news about this pandemic, you just have to make the effort to go look for it, because thanks to our culture of sensationalism and playing on visceral emotions to sell, they aren’t going to pop at the top of your newsfeed by default.

I usually favour articles that report research findings, news about possible treatments, and research that are putting into light how our lifestyle has an impact on the severity of the symptoms. Why? Because these articles can help me affect changes in my daily life in order to do my part in helping contain this virus in a sane rational way. 
I feel better joining the rank of the rational people than I do joining the rank of the paranoid people living in fear of catching the virus from anything and everything in their daily lives.

I also stopped reading news and checking the articles my friends share on Facebook first thing in the morning. 
Mornings are that time that set the tone for the day, and I made the choice to not give any energy to things that can upset me.  Mornings are a time for me to set intentions for the day, catch up on what FUN things my friends have been up to, and when I scroll down my feed, I purposely ignore any type of click bait content. If it’s important news, chances are it will pop out again in my feed later through the day, or few other friends will share it again, and if it never will shop up big deal. I’m not one to give in to “FOMO” aka fear of missing out very easily to begin with, so missing on getting a piece of news the instant it’s been published only to find out 12 hours later that it’s obsolete is really not a thing I personally feel inclined to take part in. 

I regularly ask myself if what I'm reading serves a good purpose to me. Does it inform me? Amuse me? Anger me? Make me want to insult people? Make me have hope? Gives me courage? Inspire me? 

With that in mind, it become very obvious that I don't want anything that will trigger anger, hate, sorrow or make me doubt humanity as a whole. 

Not reading negative news doesn't mean I am not informed

It just mean I am very selective of what type of news I feed my mind with. You can relay a bad news in a rational objective way that is informative, or you can relay it in a gut wrenching highly subjective way that is less about informing the reader than to trigger an intense reaction. 
The problem we see a lot these days, not just with this pandemic, but with many other topics, it's that a lot of the media content out there is not meant to inform people, it's meant to rile them up for or against a cause. 
We have become a society where acting on visceral emotions is ok, without having even a glimpse at the big picture, or having had time to ponder the other side of the story. And believe me when I say that, if you feel angry and ready to grab your pitchfork after reading an article, that is because the journalist writing it intended you to and the primary goal wasn't to inform you but confirm a bias you might already have. 

It was in June, that I was leafing through the Mumbai Mirror and realised that the city pages were all about death, long hospital queue, more death, more sob stories, more atrocity, a few suicides thrown in for good measure, and how horrible the condition of Doctors are in hospitals across the city. 
Then fast flipping through the sensationalised headlines I reached the "Nation" section where, squeezed on a side column, in a tiny blurb, I learned that India just had made Remdesivir and Favipiravir commercial as treatment for Covid 19. 
Puzzled to see that kind of news take as little space as possible, I went to look at the Times of India that comes along with the Mirror, only to find that the same interesting new, was equally buried in a lot of drama. 
I am willing to bet, that once the vaccine comes out, if it ever comes out, it will make the front page of all newspaper. We the public have already been conditioned to think of a vaccine as our ONLY solution, we even are being trained right now to accept the idea of a fast tracked process that could lead to commercialising a vaccine without having enough distance to learn about efficiency or possible long term side effects. 
Which is kind of disturbing, because I also read a few research articles pointing at the fact that people's immunity wanes away in a matter of a few weeks or at the most a few months, which means that should a vaccine be found, it won't give much long term protection. 

The thing rarely taught in school

Back in 1994, when I was in middle school, we had one class that was part of the curriculum but not graded : "Critic of informations and the medias" 

Looking back on it, it was probably the ONLY class that remain useful to this day. Ironically as a 15 years old teenager, I thought it was stupid, and that the teacher was boring and dumb. If I ever get to time travel back to that time, I'd love to tell my young self how seriously wrong about that class she was. 

That class basically taught us to analyse the news, dissect information, and teach us that every newspaper and media outlets are working an angle and to be aware of it. It taught us how easy it is to distract us with an emotion to make us overlook something else, how in some case, the news we are exposed to is purposefully narrow as to keep us along a certain line of thought. And that we could all avoid being sucked in by asking ourselves a few questions : 

- Am I really fully informed after reading this? 

- How did it make me feel? Did I feel strong emotions? 

- Isn't it more to this story I am not being told? 

- Are they talking only about the negative or positive or are they talking about both? 

- What if I double check this information with another media source? 

I think this class made far more of an impact on me than I thought it would, and I still find myself questioning everything I read in the news to this day. And, thanks to that class, I usually recognise very quickly when I'm being driven to only see one facet of an issue even though all the others are still in plain sight.

What is a bit unsettling though, is that I got a class on that topic in the 90's before internet and social media being a big thing, long before we all walked around with smartphones with 24/7 news apps on them. Back in a time when articles were still written as a summary of the last 24-48 hours and not as a "heat of the moment". 
The cult of breaking news on TV wasn't yet a thing, I think 24 hours a day news channels were still imports from the US if you had cable and understood English but definitely not a staple in people's lives. Back then "breaking news" meant the news anchor of any given channel interrupting regular TV programs if there was something seriously out of the ordinary like when two planes crashed in the World Trade Center in New York.

Yet, our kids, the next generation, the generation who is growing up in the age of near constant information, social media, and 24 hours a day news channel is not taught to analyse the content dumped on them. 
It is really disturbing because just the other day I overheard my daughter talk with her friends on a WhatsApp call about how the virus is man made, and is a bio-warfare weapon. I sat her down and asked where she got that idea, it turns out she saw it on YouTube and a friend or two told her they got it as a forward, and heard their parents talk about it. 
I had to explain, once again, that not all medias are telling the truth, that it is better to read the news from reputed newspapers and that no, YouTube and Forwards on WhatsApp are not reliable sources of information, and that there is always more than one way to tell a story. 

To me, it has become clear, that we are being bombarded by entirely too much news and very few have the time, energy, or even skills to sift through it. 
Which makes me think that limiting the amount of time we spend reading news, and purposefully look for topics we really want to know more about is probably the best way to stay sane in crazy times like this one. 
In the end, if what you want to get more of is more bad news, then at least you got to make that choice rather than having it come at you without a filter, which is what really matters.

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  1. The news overload is definitely the bane of our times and one cannot escape it. Making sense of all of it is difficult and that goes for everything including the present Covid crisis. I remember every channel had a panel of doctors who advised 24x7 the same thing with minor variations. These were the top doctors of India and their advice was valuable, but how much information can we take. At the end of this information bombardment we know only three things- (a) wear mask while going outside (b) maintain social distance (c) wash hands regularly. All the talk about immunology and vaccines has yielded only these three useful information about the virus. We have all become arm chair experts. While this insanity was going on and we were locked in our homes, what saved us particularly was the re-telecast of Ramayana. That was the only positive thing on TV in those days. I realized that nostalgia can also save you sometimes.

    I would like to see this crisis as an opportunity for the digital revolution. People took to talking with each other through video conferencing. Education is being imparted digitally. It can lead to a revolution as far as education is concerned. In other fields, there is something about digital interaction from the confines of one’s home, that put people at ease. Indian and Pakistanis who scream at each other in TV studios have a more meaningful and civilized discussion on the digital platform. That was great takeaway as far as the lockdown was concerned.

    1. Actually the whole point of this blog post is that NO it isn't something we can't escape.

      It's entirely possible not to consume news in excess, and that is what I have been doing since April. The temptation to absorb information like a sponge is big, but in the end, it's a choice, even if we feel it's not.

      My husband and I haven't had a a dish TV subscription in nearly 2 years now. And we haven't watched a news channel on TV in the past 3 years, not even on the laptop or a streaming service.
      Durning the lockdown we didn't have a newspaper delivered for 3 months.

      The problem is that a new fake "problem" has been created by medias, marketers and retail companies :

      Fear of missing out

      Often known as "FOMO" for short. It's this fabricated idea that if we don't stay connected, or consume non stop we are going to be missing out on something important, that we aren't going to be part of the "IN" crowd, or risk lagging behind others.
      FOMO is a tactic many retailers employ releasing products for a few short weeks before taking it off the racks and replace it with new inventory. It's what cause people to buy things because they think they made a bargain and that the item will never be on discount again. And it's the thing that get people to consume news round the clock because they fear that if they don't they will not have complete imformation on a topic.

      The truth though, is that NOTHING will be so outdated as to make you an ignorant pariah if you didn't open a newspaper or read an article in 24-48 hours.
      With is pandemic it has become even more obvious how people stupidly seeks answer at the push of a button.
      We have a virus with a lot of unknown variables, yet people demand to be fed updates, any updates all the time. To satisfy this hunger, panels are organized, debates are organised, fears are hyped, the virus gets this kind of sensational status it barely deserves when indeed the only info worth having were :

      Wear a mask, avoid crowds, and wash your hands

      It's not that experts failed us, it's just that this virus, like the flu and the cold is transmitted through cough droplets and we simply ignored the fact that washing our hands and avoiding being on top of another and yes wearing a mask in the peak of an outbreak of anything is probably the best thing to do and always has been. We just had to wait for a particularly contagious virus to wake us up to that fact.

      No wonder the Japanese got far less death and severe cases of the virus than the rest of the world, they are in the habit of wearing a mask if they feel unwell or go in crowded places they feel they could come up with something.

      I am not too hot about the "digital revolution", yes I think the concept of working from home is great and will become far more of a thing. I don't think facetime and zoom meeting should replace social interaction for anything else, and the online schooling we have is a hot mess and I see the lack of social interaction affect the emotional and mental wellbeing of my daughter big time.
      We are still human beings, being social is in our DNA, you can't replace the physical aspect of it entirely with online interaction without damaging the mental.

  2. You have raised a very criticle issue. Teaching childern how to analyse news and spot fake news has become essential. Thanks for the post.

    1. Thank you, it is indeed very important to teach children that skill, now more than ever.

  3. When 24x7 news arrived on the scene, it was a revelation that news could be spruced up and sold liked a commodity. In the bygone era, there was only one news channel and the other was the entertainment channel, both state owned. Men and women in suits and saris delivered news in a monotonous manner. There was nothing like breaking news too. The cardinal mistake was mispronunciation or a hiccup. The language both Hindi and English had to be impeccable. I remember two of the newscasters were fired because one of them struggled with a word and the other unfortunately had a bout of freak cough. There was a certain dignity and grace in those people. News was very serious business then, like a classical concert. Very straightjacked, but now it is like a circus. Most of it is not news but opinions. I have selected a few news portals on youtube which are through with their research and I usually depend on them for information. Many of these news portals came up because people wanted clarity on news and the new channels were not providing any.

    1. These news channels are selling news like it's entertainment.

      Opinion is is exactly what "subjective news" is all about. It's a news segment or article meant to pass a strong opinion on the viewer/reader.

      Sadly these days a lot of people can't make the difference between a subjective news which works on an angle and opinion and an objective news which states fact and aim at giving a broader understanding of a topic without bias.

  4. It's not that there is nothing of substance in media. But predominantly, there is so much dramatisation and noise. Probably, there are many people who like it that way.

    There are umpteen platforms now where one can get authentic, reliable, well-researched information. It's all about looking for it, and getting it.

    We tend to get sort of sucked into multiple information channels -- from the regulated institutional media outlets to the unregulated social media, both of them on multiple platforms. I guess, we need to be very selective in this.

    It is definitely possible for one to read just one newspaper or watch just one TV channel or listen to only All India Radio, and still be very well informed.

    1. Absolutely true!
      The problem is it seems less and less people are making the effort to look for reliable, well-researched information these days. There is also a growing segment of the population that sadly can't even tell the difference between a rubbish click bait article and well researched articles and news reports.

      Last year, I found out that my daughter's science teacher shared a video about food adulteration "tests" from the entertainment media company "Blossom" and passed it as truth to the children to discourage them from eating processed food. The video has been famously debunked as containing tons of fake information and showing very unreliable tests. But it seems that that teacher, a science teacher no less, thought it was real information.
      I had to sit my daughter down and explain how these types of videos, along with "5 minutes" crafts aren't giving very accurate informations and are more for entertainment than they are to inform people.

      Critical analysis of informations is really the need of the hour for many.

    2. There is also something else the language in which news comes out. If it is in English it is automatically assumed as gospel's truth. Many a times I have read something in English which has a particular view point. Then I read something in Hindi, which presents an entirely different view point or an additional insight into the same issue. The same subject but different perspectives. I can then compare the two and arrive at a critical conclusion.

  5. That's interesting that this was a course taught in school - how to critically analyze news sources. I wonder how much of your ability to do this is because of your own critical thinking and how much is because of the course. (my Swiss colleagues don't seem to have this skill lol - anecdotal, I know!) Nowadays and especially with Covid, a lot of the paid publications are offering their coronavirus coverage for free (such as NY times). We try to read quality media and not sensationalized stuff. Here in the US it is a bit more important to follow local, state and federal news due to it being the election year along with the pandemic crisis, and some of the topics affecting us with our jobs and finances too. But I have a rule that I don't read the news before noon. Thanks for the reminder to throw our energy into what we can focus on and be productive with. For me that is rediscovering my passion at work and enjoying doing it and getting excited about it all over again. My husband is spiraling a bit though, getting too consumed by the news and has a serious case of cabin fever. I'm trying to find a balance between letting him work it out on his own and encouraging him to come out of it.

    1. I'm not sure if it is even still taught in school in Switzerland or if it was just in my State, but of all the classes I took during my school year it is one of the only one that still has some use in my adult life.
      In my case though, it could also have to do with the fact I have strong analytical mind, and can connect dots and find patterns more easily than others.
      I was a jigsaw puzzle junkie as a kid, on top of being into arts and crafts which gave me a keen eye for not only details but broad vision as well, and I was hooked to mystery novels and as a teen I could figure out who did it before the end in most Agatha Christie and Mary Higgins Clark novel to the point of it almost stopping to be fun :-)

      I read articles from varied sources online, as you said from the reputed sources mostly.

      With my daughter getting the laptop all morning for online classes, I took to do all the things that don't need a screen during that time. Painting while I still have the desk, then quickly finish the chores and then grab my noise cancelling headphones and put on some meditation music for one hour and do some meditation and relaxation in my room. Probably the best new thing in my Covid routine.


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