News Makes You Fat

In my lifetime, I’ve been forced to painfully recognize a few of the hazards of living with this so called American overabundance of things. We don’t always recognize it because it’s our ‘normal’, but we’re a very fortunate bunch of people in the big scheme of things. We’re the biggest exporter of food in the world, exporting enormous quantities of corn and wheat and meat; “feeding the world” we like to say. We’re also over-stuffing our own pie-holes as well which is why we are also leading the world in obesity and diabetes. With the advent of social media and news-on-the-go, we’ve simultaneously become the leading consumers of information which has led to all sorts of unintended outcomes.

Most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what GooGoo’s are to the body. News can be very addictive and super easy to digest, like Chinese food, leaving us hungry for more in an hour. The media feeds us small tasty morsels of trivial matter, snippets, and tidbits that have little or nothing to do with our daily lives and which require absolutely no brain power to process at all. Unlike reading books and magazine articles which require thinking, we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes or political innuendo, which are like bright-colored candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to toxic news and information that we faced 20 years ago with regard to food. We are just now beginning to recognize the real toxicity of news.


News misleads, oftentimes intentionally but most often as a result of confirmation biases and group think. We watch the news stations that we know up-front will most likely present or frame their stories in ways that agree with our own views and opinions such that all of the information we consume does nothing but to confirm what we already believe. From the perspectives of someone whose job it is to deliver our news, they know their audiences and work hard to creatively frame their reporting in ways that are congruent with the expectations of their audiences. It’s entertainment, not news.

Actor Denzel Washington recently summed it up for us after the media ran a “fake news” story on him falsely claiming that he switched political support from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do read it, you’re misinformed. So what a responsibility you all have — to tell the truth.” Washington exclaimed to the rabid pack of reporters gathered on the red carpet. “In our society, now it’s just who’s first — who cares, get it out there. We don’t care who it hurts. We don’t care who we destroy. We don’t care if it’s true, just say it, sell it. Anything you practice you’ll get good at — including BS.”

We as a society are not rational enough to be exposed to this modern psychology-driven press. Most of us grew up with responsible news anchormen like Walter Cronkite who was touted as being the most trusted man on television. In my childhood, I learned that nightly television news was where I could get my daily doses of reality. But Walter is dead and so is unbiased news. Thus we are woefully unprepared from a psychological sense to qualitatively analyze and filter out the kinds of biases that are common in news reporting today. Today’s news is designed to get ratings, not to educate or inform. 


Watching an airplane crash on television is going to change your attitude toward that risk, regardless of its real statistical probability. If you think you can compensate with the strength of your own inner contemplation, you would be sadly mistaken. Bankers and economists – who have enormously powerful incentives to compensate for news-borne hazards – have historically shown us that they cannot. The only solution: cut yourself off from news consumption entirely.

News today is mostly irrelevant. Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you may have read or watched in the last 12 months, name one story that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of modern news is totally irrelevant to you aside from an Amber Alert. But most of us find it very difficult to recognize what is and isn’t relevant.

It’s much easier to recognize what’s new. The relevant versus the new is the fundamental battle of the current age. Media organizations want you to believe that news offers you some sort of a competitive cerebral advantage. Many of us totally fall for that as it appeals to our egos. Some actually get anxious when they’re cut off from the constant flow of news – unable to enjoy a dinner or social situation without constant manipulations of their iPhones. In reality, news consumption is a huge competitive disadvantage. The less news you consume, the bigger life advantage you have.

News has absolutely zero real explanatory power. News items are mere bubbles of air popping on the undulating surface of a much deeper and complex world. Will accumulating tons of news-facts help you better understand our world? Sadly, no. The relationship is inverted. The important stories are non-stories: slow, powerful movements that develop below shock-journalists’ radar but have a transformative effect like Rock and Roll, hippies or frozen food.

The more “news factoids” you digest, the less of the big picture you will understand. If more news information leads one to higher economic success, we’d expect journalists to be at the top of the economic pyramid. That’s not generally the case except for the journalists who tease our imaginations with fantastic works of fiction like Harry Potter or Star Wars.


News can also be toxic to our bodies. It constantly triggers the human limbic system. Shocking stories spur the immense releases of cortisol. This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress. High cortisol levels cause impaired digestion, lack of growth (cell, hair, bone), nervousness and susceptibility to infections. The other potential side-effects include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision, desensitization and weight gain. Now you know; it’s amazingly unfair to be forced into watching sexy news anchors on television with perfect bodies who’s job it is to make us bald and fat by force-feeding us sugar-coated stress balls.

News also increases cognitive errors. News feeds the mother of all cognitive errors: confirmation bias. In the words of Warren Buffett: “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.” News exacerbates this flaw of humanity. We become prone to overconfidence, take stupid risks and misjudge opportunities.

It also exacerbates another cognitive error: the story bias. Our brains crave stories that make sense – even if they don’t correspond to reality. Today’s journalism proposes simplistic answers for complex situations. There’s no time to explain, it’s just easier to offer us viewers whatever explanations that both entertain us and fit the agenda.

News actually inhibits normal thinking. Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses that steal attention for their own purposes. News makes us shallow thinkers. But it’s worse than that. News severely affects memory.

There are two types of memory, long-term and short-term memory. Our long-term memory’s capacity is nearly infinite, but working memory is limited to a certain amount of slippery data. The path from short-term to long-term memory is directly through a sort of narrow choke-point in the brain, but anything you want to fully understand must pass through it. If this passageway is disrupted, nothing gets through.


Because news disrupts our concentration, it weakens overall comprehension. Online news has an even worse impact. In a 2001 study, two scholars in Canada showed that comprehension declines as the number of hyperlinks in a document increases. Why? Because whenever a link appears, your brain has to at least make the choice not to click, which in itself is distracting. News is an intentional interruption system. News works much like a drug. As stories develop, we want to know how they continue and end. With hundreds of arbitrary storylines in our heads, this craving is increasingly compelling and hard to ignore.

Most news consumers – even if they used to be avid book readers – have lost the ability to absorb lengthy articles or books. After reading four or five pages they get tired, their concentration vanishes, and they become restless. It’s not because they got older or their schedules became more onerous. It’s because the physical structure of their brains has changed. This phenomenon is constantly proven every time I write a blog that is more than two pages long. Information is no longer a scarce commodity; attention is.

News kills creativity. This is one reason that mathematicians, novelists, composers and entrepreneurs often produce their most creative works at a young age. Their brains enjoy a wide, uninhabited space that emboldens them to come up with and pursue novel ideas. I don’t know a single truly creative mind who is a news junkie – not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter. My own sister, an accomplished artist and creativity sensei, could care less about news. She inspires me to un-clutter my mind all the time. On the other hand, I know a bunch of boring and non-creative minds who consume news like meth-addicts.

Society needs journalism – but in a different way than we’re getting it. Investigative journalism is always relevant. We need reporting that polices our institutions and uncovers truth. We need warnings of relevant danger and notices of pertinent  information like obituaries and 10 mile-long yard sales. But important findings don’t have to arrive in the form of news. Long journal articles and in-depth books are good, too.


News only shows the exception to the rule, never the rule itself. An example might be the Michael Brown/Ferguson, Missouri news story. How many people have been hurt, cops killed, stores looted, cars set on fire and collective property damage calculated as a result of a reputed criminal who robbed a store and died while trying to kill a police officer? The toxic ratings-oriented news of today exacerbates ones feelings of institutional racism and disillusionment with government because its profitable to report the news that way. It doesn’t “pay” these days to report facts.

A car drives across a bridge, and suddenly the bridge collapses. What does modern news media focus on? The car. What direction it was traveling. The driver. Where he came from. Where he was headed. How he survived his near-death experience, his many struggles to cope with his new physical limitations, and frustrated attempts to walk unsupported at his September wedding.

But that is all completely irrelevant. What is relevant? The structural stability of that dang bridge! That’s the underlying risk that has been lurking, and could lurk in other bridges, right? But the car is flashy, it’s dramatic, the injured person is entertaining and it’s news that’s cheap to produce. News leads us to walk around with the completely wrong risk-map in our heads.

No news is actually good news. Perhaps it’s time to hit the scales because you just gained 4 pounds reading this blog.

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Living With Authenticity

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t been writing as prolifically as I seemed to be doing a few months ago…there’s a good reason for that. I’ve actually been writing quite a lot, it’s just that I’ve been working on a bigger writing project and you don’t get to see its progress on a weekly basis. My blog has just a fun way for me to be expressive and sort of think-out-loud from time to time. It helping me to live a more authentic life and introduce my friends and family to a side of my personality that was rarely expressed before I started writing.

What exactly is living authentically you say? Well, it generally means that we bring our actions closer in line with our actual thoughts and beliefs…quite simply to be ourselves. Living authentically requires us to identify what makes us feel alive, real, and vibrant and then have the courage to live and operate in that space while battling any fears that would inhibit us from doing so. My blog forces those thoughts to the surface so that I’m held accountable by those who read and care about the things and ideas I’m expressing.

Writing, for me, is the conduit that carries my most inner thoughts from the grey recesses of my mind into full-technicolor. Writing helps me to live more authentically because it exposes what is normally shaded and adds light and clarity to the way I think and feel about different subjects when my normal outward persona is perhaps less expressive or conservative.

It all sounds very simple, in theory, but it’s actually rather difficult for some of us to be outwardly authentic or at least sustain such a lifestyle for very long. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out a way to pry open our souls. Not everyone enjoys writing such as I do…we all have to find our own methods of free expression that work for us. Whether it’s societal, professional or familial norms and pressures or just our own inner monologues messing with our heads; finding and expressing one’s authentic self can for some be a monumental struggle.

Rooster

My sister Lisa is an artist. She expresses herself through a median which is perhaps less immediately identifiable than if you were allowed to just read her words from a page but they are her voice nonetheless. The amount of love and admiration she has for a particular subject is easily detected in blended brushstrokes, expressive painted eyes or a sculpted brow. The details of her life are forever etched into the fabric of each canvas, one needs only to look carefully before recognizing a bit of her own personality in every work.

Lisa is a person who authentically loves. She has chosen a path in life that allows her to express her love of humanity in a way that will last well beyond her own life. In a way, she’s been very authentic and un-pretentious her whole life. She’s always colored outside the lines. Most of us, however, take ourselves way too serious to be authentic. It takes a little time and a lot of soul searching to really understand the benefits of exposing what we consider to be a vulnerable underbelly.

In some ways I guess the idea of living with authenticity has become quite the “in” thing to do, or at least to strive for, though some ultra-conservative folks may still find some of what people do to be authentic a bit “TMI” (Too Much Information). When I was growing up, you rarely saw people, especially people on television, living authentically. Morality moguls and the FCC had a responsibility to protect “normal” folks from the evils of the real world. So of course women were supposed to look like Cheryl Tiegs, men were supposed to be like John Wayne and kids were supposed to behave like “the Beaver” and the “Brady Bunch”.
Deviations from those examples would have been, let’s say, outside the norm even though our society has always consisted of people who marched to the beat of different drums. I often wonder how my grandparents might have reacted to some of the television programming common to our generation.

I had certainly never heard the term “living authentically” until a short while ago so it wasn’t really a conscious goal of mine to be more authentic. Instead, it was more like an unrealized necessity brewing within an oyster shell. There was this imperfect pearl inside me which needed to be heard and I needed an impetus, the right impetus, to release the genie from its bottle. I wasn’t like my sister Lisa who had been perfecting her authenticity from an early age, instead I was like two people; one public persona and one private persona. Unless you really knew me well, you never got to know my thoughts and feelings or sadistic humor. My wife even said that I was “unapproachable”.

I remember distinctly when I was attending the Police Instructor Development Course (circa 1993). A very close friend of mine was attending the course with me at the police academy and had been called up to the board to give his mock presentation. In the very beginning he, very authentically, announced…”Uh, I can’t spell for shit so forgive me if I misspell something.” After the class, I warned him that in the real world, he might have lost his audience – off the bat, by exposing such a weakness to the audience. “Teachers aren’t supposed to have weaknesses.” I advised him that in a real classroom, he should just pick someone from the class and ask them to assist him at the board in order to conceal that weakness. I laugh about that today because I was essentially advising him to not be himself while today writing a blog about being authentic.

Living authentically doesn’t always equate to winning friends or making ourselves or other people feel comfortable. When we grow older, our need to be more authentic sort of trumps our desire to placate the whims and egos’ of family and friends. Sometimes our own children may feel neglected or un-loved as our desire to be real unravels the confidence of those we once praised unconditionally. When children move on to adulthood, a parents expectations of them evolve thus a once doting parent may seem unimpressed which forces our loved ones to uncomfortably reevaluate themselves.

Is that a bad thing or a good thing? I don’t know but adult children must realize that they will never benefit from anything fake. They’ve been taught as children to believe they can do everything…now, it’s time to move on and amend that statement to, “You could have done anything, now, your choices are limited by the decisions you’ve made.” Regardless, as adults, we need to move on and accept that everyone else does too. Adulthood is different from childhood and we all need to be comfortable with our parents evolving too.

I think age and maturity, more than anything else, compels us to evaluate our lives and how we’ve lived them. We grow to care more about others but we care less about what those people think about us. We expect our friends and family to be mature enough to recognize that faults and flaws are the norm – not the exception. Writing about my ideas on life brings me closer to living an authentic life because my thoughts are exposed and unfiltered.

I’m a firm believer in the concept of “wherever you go, there you are,” but sometimes starting a new hobby, career, or relationship can give you the perspective you need to shed old labels and notions you have of yourself and gradually get to know the real you a whole lot better — and not the “you” the people around you have told you that you are for your entire life, or who you’re “supposed” to be or the “you” that a parent “wants” you to be or even the “you” that you believe you “should” be.

And that is a big part of finding your authentic self: releasing the past and living in the present. Being mindful of every moment and of those who surround you can better ground our souls while simultaneously allowing us to be open to new experiences as living authentically is a moving target. Mindfulness can also lead you to become more empathetic to the struggles of others as you accept not only yourself as you are but also others’ authentic selves as well.

Promises, Promises, Promises

Getting old sucks. For all of my fellow baby boomers out there or even the more seasoned of you who are feeling the pains of maturity, those three simple words can conjure up a plethora of other more personally felt phrases – most of which wouldn’t be appropriate to write without a parental advisory notice like you see at an R rated movie. Although, technically, I did warn you up front with a legal disclaimer, I don’t actually plan on using a lot of expletives in this particular blog. I just thought I’d put it out there just in case I have to reposition my doughnut pillow while I’m writing this.

When I was a kid, I thought we’d be flying around on our own jet-packs by now. Every time I watch the news it looks like someone’s invented a way to make a gun from plastic with a 3D printer or grow a lung in a petri dish or even clone Little Bo Peep. Emily and I are taking a Beef Master class at the Ag Extension office right now and low and behold I learned that you can kill the testicles of a living bull and use stem cells from a prize bull to grow new “bull stuff” and it will totally replace the bull’s reproductive system to be exactly like the donor bull – DNA and all. Isn’t that something? But…still no jet-pack.

With all of those exciting discoveries, what they failed to tell us is that Dolly the first cloned sheep from the late 90’s was put down in 2003 (6 years old) from being plagued by health problems like lung disease and premature arthritis. It seems that even if you’re cloned from good stock, nothing will protect us from the withering ravages of time. It seems like ever since I turned 50, I’m hurting all the time and not necessarily in the same places.I need access to a good lab and a genome scientist if you know of one who’s looking for work.

I mean, seriously, I can be walking down an isle in Kroger with not a care in the world other than the oddly ever-increasing price of peanut butter and all of the sudden if feels like my hip just went out of socket. Then miraculously…20 steps and 3 bent cans of soup later – I feel fine again. With every passing day, I will either have inflamed tendons in my hand prohibiting me from properly closing or making a fist, or, plantar fasciitis in one or both feet, or, a messed up hip, or, bulging disks in my lower back, or, a myriad of other things going on that serve only to ruin my day/week/month/year. Did I mention the diabetes – tennis elbow? Wait a minute…I gotta pee.

Is this really it? Is this what people are talking about when they rave about how much they’re enjoying their retirement years? I’m more than a decade away and I already hate it. Not only was I never good at math, now I’m expected to learn how to operate a retirement calculator too. The one thing I was counting on the most never even came to fruition. All those space drama’s had me jonesing for something much better than an xbox. Lost In Space, Deep Space Nine, Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Barbarella, Planet of the Apes, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Alien…you name it…even the artist formerly known as Prince thought we’d be doing something really awesome by 1999. All he got out of it was a lawsuit, a bad tattoo, and the inability to use his own fake name in a sentence.

Here we are in 2015 and I’ve already outlived my father by 3 years. We as a society have made a lot of progress my father never got to see…one of which he’d have been most impressed with is a Tennessee NFL franchise. On one side of the coin Saturday Night Live is still going strong and one of our biggest rock stars is still Bob Dylan. Not a lot has changed in that regard. On the other side, we’ve learned that Oz is real and has his own television show, scientists are growing human organs in test tubes, Mike Tyson has a froufrou face tattoo, we’re shooting video’s on Mars and the President’s black. As the late Tim Wilson would have so eloquently said, “Were the F*ck is my jetpack?”

Still Good, But Not Too Good

If you’ve been paying attention to my blogging for the past 6 months then you’ve likely noticed the wide berth of subjects I’ve written about. It’s kind of all over the place, much like my real life. If you know me personally you’ve probably wondered why I’m not writing about about the things I’m most familiar with…the things I’m sort of known for being best at. I’ve wondered about that myself.

The best answer I can give is that I’d very likely bore the crap out of you because I’m one of those detail oriented people who obsesses over minute details when I’m explaining things that I love the most. I’m that guy that rarely speaks but when someone asks me what time it is will explain the history of Swiss watch making in order you get a well rounded answer. So, if you want to know my opinions on guns and shooting, meet me at the gun range and I’ll be happy to oblige you. If you just want to escape sanity for a few minutes, stick to my blog as-is and we’ll burn a few of those brain cells together.

I actually have a technical training manual I’ve written on the subject of advanced combat handgun shooting based on contemporary neuroscience that’s more than 300 pages. It’s used by certain military training camps – not to teach them anything valuable but to see if they will wash out of training before being forced to finish reading it. Not exactly what I was shooting for when I wrote it but you take your wins wherever they’re found right?

Some writers struggle to develop topics or ideas about what to write about but I’m not really one of those people. I can literally write about anything or nothing, anytime – anywhere. This blog is a particularly good example of that useless ability. It’s probably because big-boy writers take themselves serious and attempt to stay true to a particular style in order they not disappoint loyal followers and fans. Since I really don’t take myself all that serious and have no real audience, I’m not required to filter out anything that might tend to make me look ignorant. There are some things that are so obvious about us that we’d be wasting our time to try and hide it from people.

I guess I fear that seriousness just a little bit. When my son was about 13 years old I came up with this lofty philosophical expression in hopes I would sound profound and worth listening to. I told him repeatedly, “When a man begins to take himself too serious, everyone else stops.” I actually came up with it as a response to a friend at the time who liked to embellish his life to the point of downright dishonesty. Instead of being a volunteer reserve police officer he became, to people not in the know, a CIA agent. Then, after a disability, he became a CIA handler who recruited covert operatives and planned international missions against terrorism right from his bedroom.

My mom, in this same situation, would likely say that he had a great imagination…”If you can’t say something good about someone then you shouldn’t say anything at all!” I hear ya mom. But, I’m a dad now and this man’s inadequacies inspired powerful teaching moments for father-son conversations. My son probably doesn’t even remember how cool I was back then. The last remaining fragment of coolness from my 50 year old existence is a full head of mostly black curly hair. Any other positive attributes are muted first thing every morning by having to pluck ear hair, taking handfuls of prescription cocktails and a sobering number from my trusty blood-glucose meter.

I used to enjoy rappelling off high cliffs, now I fear climbing an aluminum ladder up to my roof. Oh how my life has changed. I barely recognize myself anymore. It’s a great thing I didn’t meet my wife back when I was a real guy. She’d be sorely underwhelmed at how I’ve evolved. But since I met her in my 40’s, and since I do well at concealing my age inflicted inadequacies, she still thinks I’m pretty cool. Just wait till she finds out that it was a fear of heights and not forgetfulness that kept me from fixing the leaky roof.

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