News Makes You Fat

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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.

Brokeback Bachelorette

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I’ll admit it, I’m always right up in the middle of watching the Bachelorette with my wife as I just can’t seem to get enough of watching superficial train wrecks. Monday evenings just wouldn’t be complete without pigeon induced meltdowns and sumo ball-sack bingo. I’m sure Emily wants to pull her hair out with all my side commentary as I sarcastically narrate the entire show like an off-camera storyteller with a personal grudge – ruining the entire show for her. But I just can’t help it, I mean, think about it – Kaitlyn is supposed to be intensely afraid of pigeons but she has them tattooed all over her body – get real.

First though, what’s up with the Rose Ceremony being moved to the beginning of the show? Do they really think their ratings will go up by losing the one thing we can always count on? Oh, forget what I just said, there are lots of things you can always count on i.e., 30 douchebag losers with ripped abs all vying to interview for the next available slot as a reality television star. They have zero motives whatsoever in finding love, although a quickie in the fantasy suite would suit them all just fine.

This season tells that story even better than any others because ABC was so foolish as to pit two girls against each other for some added drama and the potential of making a pretty but very fake girl cry on national television (which worked BTW). The aftermath that followed was that the guys switched loyalties like I change hair gels. Kupah, the entrepreneur, whose name means “race card” in Swahili, says to Kaitlyn after getting the boot…”I don’t want to go home because you’re hot and you like movie quotes just like me”. Play on Playa!

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What about Tony the healer? OMG! Before the second part of the date, Tony the Tiger tells Kaitlyn he needs to go home because he has the heart of a warrior and the spirit of a gypsy and the mind of child and why can’t they do something peaceful and loving on their dates instead of sitting on the balcony using the F word like any other Ninja child would do. I guess his warrior heart got left on the sumo stage along with all of those over-confident statements in the beginning like – “I would be so frightened right now if I had to fight myself because my inner child might appear as the fighter and then my warrior badass, fighting from either side of my sumo outfit, could explode my Gypsy spirits, causing my inner child to run away forever – which is a metaphor for “I’m a complete narcis-tard and I would make a way better bachelorette and Kaitlyn never took me to the zoo so I’m quitting.”

JJ totally gets on my nerves. He has to be one of the most narcissistic and over-confident contestants ever. He looks like the love child between JFK and Austin Powers. He’s got the Kennedy jaw line but those teeth could be used to seine fishing minnows from a creek. JJ says he loves Japanese culture and sushi. I’m sure that blob’ish tattoo on his shoulder probably means California Roll in Japanese. The ABC editors are definitely attempting to make us think that JJ and Clint are gay but I’m not sure JJ even knows what up yet because his mind couldn’t possibly be occupied by anyone other than his over-inflated self.

What about Jared the restaurant manager. I hated this guy from the get go but then he sort of redeemed himself when he came clean with Kaitlyn about his dreamy fixations on Britt. It was a stupid move, relationship wise, but made me think that he might actually be a real person. Then he started instigating stuff and decides to tattle-tell on the two Brokeback bachelors JJ and Clint for being douches. I’m convinced Jared manages a Chic-Fil-A because you know those Chic-Fil-A folks have a real hard time with the LGBT folks. I can totally see him pushing a 2 for 1 Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap with Avocado Lime Ranch deal. Kaitlyn should definitely think twice before taking him home as he is already showing signs of receding facial hair.

The show ends with Kaitlyn confronting a shameful Clint who acts like he’s more interested in JJ’s “goldmember” than Kaitlyn. Earth to Clint, you don’t have to get a rose to hook up with JJ, an email address will do just fine. I don’t know if ABC is just editing all of this to make us think something that may not true or if Clint is really falling in love with JJ in a romantic – not a bro-mantic – way. Either way, ABC is sensationalizing homosexuality in what I would consider a crass and insensitive way which should really fire up a pretty big demographic of once loyal followers of the show. You can’t increase ratings when you make a total freak show out of real people’s lives. I would be willing to bet a few bucks that these guys turn out not to be gay at all.

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I was hoping they would have picked Kentucky Joe for the sex education class. He’s got weird hair but he brought moonshine so that makes him cool in my book. Joe doesn’t necessarily embrace the Japanese culture like JJ and his version of sushi is probably a sliced up corn dog but he totally rocked his sumo outfit, letting his block and tackle slip out to educate America on the hidden perils of sumo wrestling. As far as the sex ed class, I say Joe would have killed it on the redneck anatomy instruction, “See dis here hole ryte chere? We call it a corn hole back where I come from.” For a reality show that prides itself on exploiting any opportunity that promises to insult a person’s culture or intelligence – they completely missed the boat with Joe.

Anyway, I thought I would just vent a little here instead of ruining the next show for Emily. I don’t want her to lose all her Zen like Tony did and make me go to couples counseling with my bonsai tree. I’m totally going to rock me one of those sumo thongs though. Maybe that would add some levity and brevity to the situation. I wonder though, what will be the next group date scenario. Kaitlyn is so fixated on overly masculine sports maybe her next group date will end up with Pistol Dueling as the Pièce De Résistance. Then Kentucky Joe can take out JJ Powers with a head shot and I can start believing in television all over again.