The all-you-can-eat-menu of daily news is toxic rubbish.
Audacious, provocative, and utterly persuasive, Stop Reading the News does what a vast majority may be secretly contemplating, but often lack the courage to act in recalibrating not just what is possible, but what is increasingly necessary. One of those rare books that set out to argue a point that you are likely not to have a deeply settled opinion on, but forces you to work through a whole series of interconnected views and assumptions to take a call. Witty, clear, and concise, even when the narrative may fail to convince the die-hard news lover, it does succeed in making one think. Really think, on how to avoid both reading and watching news for a happier, calmer, and wiser life. Having banished the obsession of news reading and watching from his life for over a decade now, Swiss journalist Rolf Dobelli provides a step by step guide on following his footsteps to reward oneself with less disruption, more time, less anxiety, and more insights. The economics and politics of news generation have made the output so addictive that before one realizes, news becomes to the mind what sugar is to the body. Digitalization has made news even more potent, its corrosive impact sidles automatically into the brain. No surprise, the all-you-can-eat-menu of the daily news has become a toxic but compulsive diet.
Stop Reading the News peels many layers of news production and its persuasive marketing which forces the reader into believing that without the news our life would be worse off. Despite most of what one gets to read or see is superfluous and exaggerated, little gets realized that the news is the opposite of understanding the world. It only reports events – events without contexts. Yet it remains dangerously addictive for a vast majority, making the consumer overconfident about carrying a permanently inflamed and completely pointless appendix that can easily be done away with. The illusion of empowerment is overwhelming!
Packed with delightfully readable chapters, Dobelli propels readers to the compelling need to build one’s own crap detector as the media has gradually stopped acting as a crap filter for its readers, listeners and viewers. Confirming Sturgeon’s Law which states that ‘ninety per cent of everything that is published is rubbish regardless of genre’, the media has only degenerated to the extent of losing its relevance. Sci-fi writer Theodore Sturgeon did face widespread condensations for his sweeping statement that later became a law, but novelist Ernest Hemingway had little doubt on the ‘need for having a built-in automatic crap detector’ as media’s business model involves shovelling the greatest possible magnitude of rubbish over the greater possible area.
The trouble with the news is that our brains are deluged with information on which we have a remote possibility of acting upon. Once our impulse to take action fades, we not only become passive but assume the role of a victim, defined as learned helplessness. Dobelli’s intuitive but engaging style of writing asks questions on our obsession with the news at the cost of inner peace and creativity. The theoretical basis for banishing news is as compelling as the proposed thirty-day plan to take the mental step of staying away from the news. The news-contaminated lifestyle needs time to detox. Once out of it, the book lists myriad other ways of engagement that could be mentally more nourishing.
Stop Reading the News would not have come about had the author not been invited to talk to internationally acclaimed journalists at The Guardian newspaper, precisely critiquing a subject that they spent their days producing it. On the following morning, Dobelli’s arguments appeared under the title ‘News is bad for you’ on the newspaper website. It remained most-read newspaper articles for the year 2013. It is interesting to note that Dobelli could tease the bunch of distinguished journalists by concluding that ‘what you are doing here is basically entertainment’, without anyone contesting it. The author sounds as much convincing now.
Dobelli has dealt with a complicated subject in its entirety, taking the discerning reader into a world of dangerous possibilities which most of us have unknowingly put our life at stake. It is light reading on a serious subject, insightful and reflective. It is a timely book on a subject that is not only affecting our lives inside out, but causing disturbing influences on our society and polity. Anybody reading this book would think twice about switching on the television news or glancing through the pages of the newspaper.
Stop Reading the News
by Rolf Dobelli
Hachette, New Delhi
Extent: 160, Price: Rs. 399.
First published in the Outlook magazine, issue for the week ending March 8, 2021