The obsession with “Fast-moving consumer news”

One suggested solution to the sheer unbearable state of today’s digital news landscape is quitting the consumption of day-to-day news. While a radical step would be to completely stop following any type of media used for the distribution of information that does not qualify as timeless, a more practical and in my opinion smarter approach is to limit one’s information intake to selected sources, trusted curators and channels that focus on specialist topics, bigger pictures and larger questions that remain relevant over longer periods of time.

Those who withdraw from what I would call “Fast-moving consumer news” (FMCN, as an information equivalent to the so called Fast-moving consumer goods) have to face one major point of criticism: To stop paying attention to the reports about tragedies, misery, human misconduct and violence, won’t stop these things from happening.

In the short term, that’s a fact. However, if the many hours not spent on following the latest breaking news are being invested into projects with a larger purpose, into entrepreneurship, or the creation and distribution of useful knowledge, then in the long-term, ignoring FMCN might in fact help improving the state of the world. But admittedly that’s still a shaky argument, because not consuming FMCN does not allow for the conclusion that the “gained” time actually is being directed towards more meaningful efforts. More likely it won’t be. 

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But those who conclude for themselves that it is their moral or civic duty to pay as much attention possible to the 24-hour news cycle, need to be aware of the following: Constantly being exposed to news increases the risk of losing all optimism for a better future. The commonly observed phrase on social media “What is happening with this world?!” perfectly encapsulates this. The more people experience the same feeling, the more likely is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Since humans are hardwired to pay more attention to bad news than to good news, bad news is what people are being fed. That bad things happen has of course always been the default mode of the world. But there were times when the majority of news consumption happened during a few, dedicated time slots. Basically, while reading the daily newspaper, and maybe once more while watching or listening to the news on TV or radio.

That has changed dramatically. Thanks to smartphones, social media and the globalization of the news coverage itself, large parts of the digital population are constantly exposed to news from everywhere. Mostly to bad news of course. All. The. Time. Who really is surprised about the growing “snapshot” sentiment of that the world is becoming worse by the day? Who is surprised about that few are even aware of the constant improvements in many areas? Who is surprised about that a widespread obsession with (mostly bad) FMCN means happy times for all kinds of attention seekers, including the so called “lone wolves” and terrorists? Who is surprised about that the spread of – at least in parts – exaggerated pessimism influences people’s decisions and opinions in negative ways? Those often cited, allegedly better times of the past were in fact pretty rough. But the notoriously massive failure of the memory and the flawed comparison of today with an analogue media landscape that successfully hid or at least “de-sensationalized” a lot of the bad news from other parts of the world, is causing a distorted picture.

I am not claiming that the excessive attention that FMCN receive is the source of all evil. It’s very hard to figure out causality. But it should definitely be considered as part of the problem.

Seeing where the debate of 2016 ended in regards to the fake news problem, I am optimistic about that this will indeed be happening over the course of 2017. Something is seriously broken with news in the digital age, and it urgently has to be fixed.

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Disclosure: I work for a service that provides curated specialized news hand-selected by experts.

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