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My life without news


I did some research and it appears Malcolm X did make the comment in the image above.

He also said.

“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”

Amazing insight and both comments are even more relevant today.

In November 2014 my wife and I agreed to switch off our TV(s). Initially it was to get away from the news. In the 5 months leading up to November I had spent a great deal time away from work, supporting my wife through her battle with breast cancer. Surgery, treatment and ongoing follow ups. The majority of our time was spent at hospitals talking about cancer, seeing doctors about cancer, with some time at home trying to forget about cancer. Wherever we went, there was always a TV and the TV always seemed to be on a channel broadcasting news. Let’s face it, it’s hard to escape it these days. Most Australian commercial TV stations have back to back news programs from 6am until about 7.30pm. The only break seemed to be in the form of light entertainment or quiz shows, dispersed between breaks from news.

I remember hating the news when I was a kid. I’d get home from school, do my homework as fast as I could so that I could watch whatever kids programs they had on at the time (Bewitched, I dream of Jeanie or maybe the Bugs Bunny show). When 6pm rolled around, the sound of the news starting was like someone sticking a fork in my eye. I was so happy when I discovered that the ABC didn’t play their news until 7pm. We had Doctor Who and then Monkey. I’d flicked the channel over and hoped that my news consuming parents hadn’t noticed.

So what happened? When and why did I start enjoying the news? At some point, I actually began looking forward to it. There was even a time when I contemplated getting the papers delivered.

I of course don’t know the why, I just fell into line like so many others and eagerly consumed the media product blindly. I become outraged with terrorism, I worried about border security and I believed every celebrity fall from grace story they fed me. I found myself talking to people about stuff I’d heard, becoming one of those doom-sayers, convinced the world was coming to an end.

Relief came in the form a breakdown. I have suffered with various mental health issues for most of my life. But it got a lot worse in October/November 2014. It resulted in a stay in my local hospital’s mental health ward. It was just over a week of drug induced bliss. Sure, there was screaming, fights between patients and fights between patients and staff. But there was also Diazepam and no TV.

When I got home I shared this experience with my wife. Not the Diazepam bit, but the no TV part, or at least no more news. Luckily my wife had begun to feel the same way. So we switched off. No news on TV, in papers or magazines. We still had some TV shows we liked to watch together in the evenings and I’m a cricket fan, so the TV came back on intermittently.

But it soon became apparent that the news wasn’t the only problem. Being selective about what you watch is fine, but you have almost no control over the barrage of marketing and advertising that occurs during commercial breaks. Sure you can turn the volume down, but it’s almost like advertisers are aware that people might do that, so they bombard you with images of stuff they’re trying to sell you. Even if you can’t hear it, you can see it!

There’s a book called “Reasons to Stay Alive” by Matt Haig. I highly recommend it if you suffer from depression and/or anxiety. I also recommend it to people who have family or friends with depression and/or anxiety. The title of the book says it all really, but there’s a chapter in the book called ‘The World’, which really struck me. It really summed up how I was feeling about media, big corporations and advertising.

Very little on TV is real. The news is not the absolute truth. It’s a version of something that has happened or will happen that is spun in such a way that will ultimately benefit them. It is aimed at making you vote they way they want you to vote. Hate who they want you to hate. Buy the things they want you to buy. Worse than that, all of this is predicated on fear and self loathing.

Fear of missing out (FOMO). Fear of people in boats and terrorism. Fear that welfare cheats are creating the economic crisis. Seriously? Everyone knows someone in their circle of friends or neighbourhood that is claiming something they shouldn’t be or getting more welfare then they deserve. None of these people are using that extra money to holiday overseas or to buy a new car. They’re paying bills, feeding their family. Sure, a few may waste it on drugs, cigarettes or alcohol, but who gives a shit. The banks, politicians and big corporations are the problem, not someone getting $50 a fortnight too much from Centrelink.

Self loathing creates a feeling that you are not good enough as you are. You’ll never be happy if you stay like you are now. You need to buy stuff, a new car, the newest smartphone or a big TV. That’s what your life is missing and they will make you happy, for now. In a few weeks you’ll be sad again but don’t worry, a new smartphone is already out!

The bottom line (to use a horrible business/marketing term), happiness doesn’t sell stuff. Fear, paranoia and hate are good for business.

So eventually we fully unplugged. I removed the cord from my TV to my roof antenna. I still have a TV and I admit to having a Netflix subscription. But our reliance of this for entertainment is slowly decreasing. The next 12 months will hopefully see me getting rid of Netflix and the TV.

It’s a work in process and part of my plan to move toward minimalism.

For now, I’m trying to practice JOMO – Joy of missing out.

Thanks for reading.

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