Science confirms why a low-information diet is bad for you // // early retirement, financial independence, productivity, lifestyle design, financial freedom, happiness, health, longevitywe've learned

Science Confirms Why a Low-Information Diet Is Bad for You

When you set out to write a research-based book on early retirement, you very quickly come to a conclusion that’s obvious to anyone who’s ever done in-depth research about retirement in any form: the people who are unhappy in retirement tend to be that way for only a very short list of reasons.

There are those who are unhappy because they don’t have enough money, of course. That should be everyone approaching or contemplating retirement’s number one concern, because money covers all the basic necessities of life. Then there are those who harbor lingering bitterness over their careers, for any number of reasons, like that they got forced out before they were ready, or they felt underpaid or mistreated over a long period. And then, perhaps most surprisingly, there are those who are unhappy in retirement because it makes them feel disconnected from the world, like they don’t matter.

Like it or not, work provides enormous social and psychic benefit to most of us. You get the benefit of feeling like you’re contributing in some way to society, even if it’s just in a small corner of your organization. (Many retirees report not appreciating that contribution until after they stopped making it, FYI.) You are forced to stay current with what’s happening in your field and in the world, if for no better reason than to have some clue what people are talking about in the lunch room.

And when you take that away, there’s a void left behind. That void is relatively easy to fill, of course, if you know that you need to do it. But if you don’t, or – worse – if you deliberately choose to leave that void in place by tuning out from the world on purpose, you’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of lower happiness and perhaps even lower longevity. Science tells us so. (Keep reading for specifics.)

The productivity bros love to talk these days about a “low-information diet,” a concept popularized by Tim Ferriss in The Four-Hour Work Week, and while its appeals are obvious, its effects are not nearly as positive as many may promise, especially in retirement. Let’s talk about why.

Psst! For those of you attending Camp FI Midwest, or who just lives near the Twin Cities, Carl (Mr. 1500) from 1500 Days and I are co-hosting a meetup Thursday, August 23, 2018, at Minnehaha Park. We’ll start around 6 on the picnic lawn (look for my bright red hair), and then around 8:30 we’ll migrate downtown to Brit’s Pub to join forces with another FIer meetup that’s going to the state fair. Bring something to sit on and whatever you’d like to consume to the park meetup if you’re attending that portion. 

Science confirms why a low-information diet is bad for you // // early retirement, financial independence, productivity, lifestyle design, financial freedom, happiness, health, longevity

About the Low-Information Diet

The low-information diet is the straightforward idea that you choose not to consume most news, social media and the like, in the interest of being more productive, living a simpler life or just not taking on the stress of negative news. All completely valid reasons!

The low-information diet became a popular thing to talk about in the early retirement community in 2013 after Mr. Money Mustache wrote about it. And in Pete’s version of the diet, you tune out all daily news altogether under the belief that “none of it affects you.” (I take massive issue with that assumption, as should any early retiree who cares about your ability to buy health insurance, or about whether the Federal Reserve Bank, which sets monetary policy and influences how long recessions last, becomes more politicized, just to use two self-serving examples. But my disagreement with Pete is not the point of this post. And to be fair, he does recommend reading books and says he reads The Economist every once in a while, which is better than nothing.)

As usual, the farther the idea travels from Mr. Money Mustache, the more extreme it becomes, and recently I’ve seen an uptick in early retirement community members talking about tuning out all news altogether, along with anything remotely controversial on Twitter, which is not what either Tim Ferriss or Pete were suggesting. But regardless of where the idea came from, it’s not actually good for us.

The Urge to Tune Out Is Normal, But News Isn’t Actually Bad for Us

Most of us can understand this impulse to tune out, of course. Despite the fact that we live in the safest and most peaceful time in human history, it’s also a time when we feel surrounded by negative news. Almost seven in 10 of us are feeling news fatigue, according to Pew Research. Last year, the American Psychological Association found that the future of the nation is the largest source of stress for Americans, ahead of money and work (!!), and that we’re at our highest collective stress level ever. (Talk about bummer news.) We’re also feeling more polarized as a country, and social media can often devolve quickly into troll attacks and vicious arguments.

But just because we feel like news is the source of our stress or anxiety doesn’t make it so. One study conducted at Washington University found that, to the authors’ surprise, “Cable news watching had no effect on psychological stress, physiological stress, or cognitive function. This remained true even if the news exposures were discordant with participants’ political affiliation. We conclude that brief cable news watching does not induce a physiological or subjective stress response or cognitive impairment among healthy older adults.” Another study from Texas A&M found that watching news from a viewpoint different than yours might raise your cortisol levels (the stress hormone), but that the effect was within the totally normal range of fluctuation for daily cortisol levels.

Wanting to turn it all off is a normal response. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best one.

The Science On What Humans Need Socially

As humans, we crave a number of levels of social connections. I’ve written plenty of times before that those who live longest and are happiest and healthiest in those years are people who have strong social connections. (That’s why I urge everyone approaching or living in early retirement to think seriously about how you’ll make new friends.) In terms of those social connections, we crave love and family, but we also crave community outside the family.

Robert S. Weiss’s excellent book The Experience of Retirement (h/t to J.D. Roth for bringing the book to my attention), taken from his multi-year ethnographic study of a large sample of people before, during and after retirement, states that those who rely too heavily on a spouse, children or extended family for their social connections in retirement end up less happy, while those who are happiest have both close family connections and a social circle outside of family in which they feel like they belong and feel valued. Nancy Schlossberg’s book Revitalizing Retirement connects the dots between a critical human need – to matter – and our connectedness outside our own homes and families. (If you’re thinking, “This is about traditional retirement. It doesn’t apply to me, an early retiree,” reconsider. They both looked at a range of people in many different circumstances, and the only thing in common was that all had left work. That applies to early retirees, too.) Per Schlossberg’s research, we want to matter to people even after we’ve left work, and that requires staying relevant in some way.

To summarize what that research tells us: We all have the desire to feel that we matter to people who aren’t a part of our family, people who exist in the outside world, which requires staying relevant in the context of the larger world.

And what does it mean to “matter” or to “stay relevant”? It means that people seek out your opinion. They care what you have to say. They value your input. They notice when you’re not around. It’s one thing to tune out when you’re working – which is what Tim Ferriss was doing when he proposed it – or to tune out when millions of people care what you have to say – as Pete did – but quite another when you neither have work to keep you current nor throngs of adoring fans hanging on your every word. For most of us to stay relevant, we must have a clue what’s going on in the world, or we risk very quickly turning into that sketchy uncle with weird, half-informed opinions that no one really wants to talk to.

Removing work from your life shrinks your social universe, and while every single one of us on the early retirement path might argue that it’s a worthwhile trade-off, it’s still worth being honest about what we’re exchanging for more free time. If, in addition to removing a lot of our social interaction from our lives when we leave work, we also unplug from what’s happening in the world, we run the risk of living in an incredibly small world mentally. Drunk Uncle lives in that small world. Don’t join him there.

You Can’t Learn What You Don’t Know You Don’t Know

An essential piece of long-term happiness is lifelong learning. Leaving work should not be the end of learning new things, but only the beginning. And most early retirees have a long list of things they want to learn about. But there are also so many topics out there that we don’t even know we don’t know about, and if you’re shutting yourself off from much new information, you don’t give yourself a chance to realize that you might be interested in a topic and wish to learn more. This not knowing what we don’t know is called “hypocognition,” and we all experience it. The realization many men have had during the #MeToo movement, for example, that women have a very different experience in the world than most men ever realize, is a cultural moment of realizing that we’d had some hypocognition in the past. An excellent article on hypocognition by Kaidu Wu and David Dunning in Scientific American provides this perfect anecdote:

In 1806, entrepreneur Frederic Tudor sailed to the island of Martinique with a precious cargo. He had harvested ice from frozen Massachusetts rivers and expected to make a tidy profit selling it to tropical customers. There was only one problem: the islanders had never seen ice. They had never experienced a cold drink, never tasted a pint of ice cream. Refrigeration was not a celebrated innovation, but an unknown concept. In their eyes, there was no value in Tudor’s cargo. His sizable investment melted away unappreciated and unsold in the Caribbean heat.

The islanders of Martinique in 1806 didn’t know what they didn’t know: that ice cream is the best thing ever. And they missed the chance to learn about the deliciousness of ice cream because they couldn’t compute what ice was. And they had no way to find out about new things that could have broadened their horizons in those days. But we do now. So long as you don’t disconnect yourself from them.

Staying Tuned In Keeps You Grateful and Empathetic (Which Keeps You Healthy and Happy)

In my day-to-day life, I mostly encounter people a lot like me. I see people shopping at the store, and if I’m shopping at Whole Foods, they are never using food stamps. I see people out on the trails who have time for leisure, or who can afford a mountain bike. In our neighborhood, we see people who can afford homes in a pricey ski town, and who can also afford to drive cars that aren’t 20 or more years old. I rarely see a homeless person in the towns around Tahoe. In other words, there’s very little socioeconomic diversity apparent to me in my “real world” life.

That’s true for most people. Most of us live in communities in which everyone is within a fairly narrow socioeconomic range. And when everyone around you looks similar, it’s easy to start taking things for granted. It’s easy to assume that it’s not a big deal to own a nice home, or to have financial security or even to be early retired. None of which is true. And while I’d also argue that it’s important for those of us with financial means to stay engaged in society to help make it better (because who else will besides those with time and resources?), looking at it from a purely self-serving perspective, there’s good reason to stay plugged in just to get a glimpse into the lives of others at different rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. Because when we do, we are more likely to feel grateful for what we have, and gratitude is strongly linked to increased happiness and health in multiple scientific studies. And staying in tune with the experiences of those not like us also keeps us or makes us more empathetic, which helps us deal with stress more effectively.

But You Can Have Too Much of a Good Thing

Very few things in life are all good or all bad, but the low-information diet proponents can sometimes fall into this either/or thinking instead of seeing the shades of gray. “If all this news is making me feel stressed out, then no news must be the answer!” (It’s not.) The answer is very likely not no news, but simply consuming less.

Most of the stories about news causing stress bury the lead, which is that it’s not news inherently that stresses us out, it’s the around-the-clock news obsession and the onslaught we feel especially when watching cable news. It’s easy to mistake this article as saying that it’s bad to read the news, but it’s really saying it’s bad to read the news constantly.

How You Can Guard Against the Negatives of News and Social Media Without Tuning Out Entirely

While it’s important to stay engaged in what’s happening in the world – Relevance! Gratitude! Empathy! More opportunity to learn! – that doesn’t mean it’s healthy to engage with news and social media with no limits. So whether you feel news is a productivity suck you wish to cut out of your life or you just feel overwhelmed by all the bad news, here’s how you can stay tuned in without losing your sanity or your focus:

Avoid TV news – Of all forms of news, TV news is that most likely to make us anxious, even if the effect is only temporary. It’s also most likely to pump up non-stories to fill time, to practice sensationalism and alarmism, and to make it sound like some freakish thing that happened to one person COULD HAPPEN TO YOU. In addition, research shows that repeatedly seeing violent images like you do when you consume news via TV (or via mobile video) can both induce trauma and desensitize us to violence and ideas of it. So you can and should tune out all TV and video news without guilt. Instead, focus on print, which both has more rigorous journalistic standards and isn’t trying to fill space just to fill it, and which makes it easier to go deeper into an issue if it sparks your interest.

Practice moderation – Though news itself is not making us the stressed out creatures many of feel we’ve become, too much news can certainly aggravate the problem. So make a point of consuming a limited amount in any given day so it’s not increasing your anxiety and it’s also not a time suck. Apps like Moment can help if you aren’t sure how much time you’re spending reading news or checking in on social media on your phone. (Warning: the results can be alarming.)

Set time limits – Set parameters for both how much time you’ll spend interacting with news each day and what time of day you’ll do that. If you like to know what’s going on first thing in the morning, read the news and check in with social media then and make a point of ignoring them the rest of the day, knowing you’ll catch up the next morning. Or if you have a tendency to go down the rabbit hole as soon as you engage with news or social, save them for late in the day so they don’t derail your productivity. The Slow News Movement has some helpful tips to help you set limits for yourself.

Set aside offline days – Especially when the news is stressful, it’s important for self-care that you not immerse yourself in it every day. Take the whole weekend off from news and social media, or determine other days that work better for you, but take them. Days off screens are important for us anyway, but so is unplugging for a short period every so often.

Consume a broad range of news sources – Just as not reading news at all can shrink your world, so can only getting news from one source, because you quickly become blind to that particular outlet’s bent or even bias. Rotate your news sources or use a news aggregator to ensure you aren’t unwittingly seeing only news biased in one direction.

Don’t consume your news through Facebook or Twitter – Having said that about a broad range of sources, Facebook and Twitter should not be among them. First, your news feed on Facebook is likely to be filled with questionable “news,” but the format of both Facebook and Twitter encourages going into the black hole and wasting massive time and brain space. Install the Facebook News Feed Eradicator if you want to block the news feed but can’t give up Facebook altogether, and on Twitter, consider changing your language setting to an Asian language like Japanese or Korean so you can’t see the moments or other features that pull you in. (You can still see tweets in their original language, but the other distracting stuff becomes unintelligible to you if you don’t read those languages.)

Be a savvy consumer of news – Much of what masquerades as “news,” especially on television news, is really just celebrity gossip, or sensationalized nothing turned into scare-tactic content. (“A woman died from an infection from dog saliva!” “Some Kardashian did some something!”) That stuff isn’t news, and it doesn’t deserve your brain space. (Unless you consciously decide that the Kardashians are your source of junk food, like I do with the British Royal Family. In that case, no shame. Just don’t also then follow every movement of every Real Housewife. See “practice moderation” above.)

Purposefully seek out positive news – When we hear both positive news and negative news, we’re likely to focus on the negative, in an effect called the negativity bias. (It’s like if you get 10 great comments and one critical one, you’re more likely to focus on the critical one even though it’s the outlier.) So give that negativity bias a break and purposely seek out positive news. Some great sources are Positive News, Kindling, Yes! Magazine, Good News Network and the Good News Podcast. And, of course, you can always scroll through the We Rate Dogs Twitter feed if you need a cuteness boost.

Your Turn

What do you think? Where do you fall on the all-the-news vs. no news spectrum? Have you found any helpful strategies for staying plugged in without distracting you from your life goals or causing too much anxiety? Anyone want to make a case for the low-information diet in spite of what the science says? Got some more sources of good news? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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81 replies »

  1. This is great advice. I went on a pretty good news-diet, mainly after I cut cable years ago. Not only was it good for my net worth it was great for my sanity. It just sucks that when you want to get some news these days you have to go to multiple sources and piece their mostly biased information together to get to the real story. I realize bias has always been in news, but it’s gotten way worse and when you throw the outright hate and vitriol of social media on top of it it just depresses me.

    • Cutting the cord had the same effect for my wife and I. In junior high, a wise teacher told us during a unit about the muckraking and yellow journalism of the 1900s that the purpose of the news media was to sell newspapers, and in later years, tv commercials.

      On a positive note, please do take a look at the 1800s, in terms of political prints in what were then early forms of modern newspapers. The the reason Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton had their duel across the Hudson River in New Jersey was exactly due to the vitriol and horrible things that people said about one another. I have to say that modern social media and reporting is still, fortunately, rather tame compared to that era, in my opinion based on my own research.

      • It’s always worth looking back at history, and I appreciate you raising this! That said, I would have to disagree on social media being tame compared to, well, anything! Take a look at the feeds and mentions of most women on Twitter who dare to be so audacious as to have an opinion on something, and you’ll quickly see just about the worst things you can imagine.

      • Burr did the same to Hamilton, his wife, and children. The same happened to Andrew Jackson’s family. I would say the lack of progress is sad.

      • Thank you for sharing. I look forward to reading this. I am not on Twitter as I have not been interested, and I’ve not paid it much attention. I am barely on Facebook at this point, and even then more to coordinate with family.

      • I’m not trying to push you there! If you’re happy staying off Twitter, then no reason to head over there. Just to say that I think people who aren’t there (and many who are) have no idea how truly vile a lot of it has become. I put up with it because there’s so much positive (and because I’m not nearly high profile enough to get the brunt of it, though it only takes one viral tweet to start it), but it’s pretty horrifying.

      • You are not the first person who has told me that Twitter has become like that. I have heard many famous people say that they have had enough of it. I am sure what you are saying is true. I think, I hope, people will learn the civility that you and others have said is lacking. Otherwise, they will take the fun out of the platform that others have told me they find in it.

        I may join as this pseudonym at some point, but I will not join as me.

  2. I’m finding that the Apple News app, currently only available on iOS devices, is a fantastic news aggregator. Would love to learn of other aggregators that aren’t tied to a specific OS

  3. As i was reading through i was ready to jump in but, how do you correct for all the garbage out there? I completely love your actionable tips at the end. I’d say there is definitely a fine line to consuming “information” these days… while it is important to remain aware of the big issues going on all around us, these days bad news… or toxic news is really what is popularized. So it’s almost like once you open those can of worms, it can be very difficult to break away.

    That said, i love the guidelines you have giving to help us actually consume information responsibly. Cheers Tanja!

  4. I got through your first 1500 words (estimating) and had written up a response about some of things that you mentioned in the last 1000 words that negated a lot of it. That was quite the curveball ;-).

    I must have missed this low-information movement, because information can be very useful. I don’t think it should be conflated with news. Learning how to play the piano is high-information, but it’s not news.

    There are different types of news. I remember when a white iPhone made ALL the TOP headlines for a few days. It does qualify as news just like any royal wedding does. For me, an injured MLB pitcher may qualify as news. This can be viewed as entertainment, but it is both news and entertainment. On another level, news about Google wanting websites to have SSL is important to me in a way that isn’t about entertainment.

    I think there’s a new news difference in the post-truth era, especially with regard to the stress of fake news. There’s a reason why many people are learning about the term gaslighting over the last couple of years. I’m not sure people got overly “stressed” about the color of the dress. Maybe for a couple of days, but they (correctly) deemed it as not important.

    As J.D. Roth says, “Do what works for you”, right?

    We can connect with each other through more than just news conversations. We could have shared interests like the piano (to borrow from above).

    The last thing I’d note is that the research you cite about news not being a source of anxiety seems very weak. The first study was a small, insignificant sample size of 34 people. The second was the week after the 2008 election when social media was in its infant stages (compared to today) and it (may have conveniently) ignored the sample size in the abstract.

    I’m not saying that it’s not true, but I’d place a lot more weight on the Pew polls of 5000 people today than I would of 34 people or something in 2008 that doesn’t seem relevant today.

    • That’ll teach you to draw conclusions before the other person finishes. ;-) Definitely agree that “information” and “news” are not the same, and the notion should, in fact, be called the low-news diet, because that’s what they’re talking about. As to the research, it’s not perfect by any means, but it all trends in the same direction, which lends credibility. I do agree that we need to do new research now in the post-truth era because some things have for sure changed. But that only gives us more need to be engaged in what’s happening, not less.

  5. As you know, I feel pretty strongly about needing to make a positive impact in this world, and the only way to really do that is to pay attention to what’s going on in said world. It may not be all sunshine and rainbows, but as it was put in one of my favorite books, I’m looking for an “eminently useful” life, not just a good and happy one. And 10/10 would recommend We Rate Dogs on Twitter.

  6. I’ve found the most useful news is from my weekly neighborhood paper. It covers business openings/closings, events, development ‘issues’, highlights people doing great things in the local community, and some really funny editorials (not junk opinion pieces).

    Have fun at the MN State Fair! It’s so much fun. Few things to note that everyone should know:

    1. There are really good daily schedules on their website that will help you navigate through all the activities.
    2. You can bike there really easily from TCF Stadium on UofM’s transit way (bikes and buses only)
    3. Buy your discounted tix and coupon book from Cub Foods before you go
    4. Dress appropriately (casually) and be prepared to eat and sweat a lot.
    5. You’ll walk and be standing for hours, good shoes are the most important thing to enjoy your day there.
    6. Avoid fair debates (pronto pups vs corn dogs, best malts, what should/shouldn’t be on a stick, etc.). It’s about the only thing that gets Minnesotan’s going.

    • It’s great you stay engaged in local news. And *I* am not going to the state fair, but a different meetup is. Mainly because I get in too late to go, but also because I’d totally get into a debate about the merit of state fairs. ;-)

  7. Waw brilliant article! I like that it’s also a summary of what leads to happiness long term: social connections, lifelong learning, gratitude and empathy.
    It’s been a while I’m on the side of a low-information diet, defending my point of view with everyone who think that it’s a necessity to read/watch news constantly like it’s weird not to know what’s going on everywhere all the time. Although lately I felt like it was not right for me to read/watch so little of what’s happening in the world, so I was happy to see your new article! It’s always good to read about opposite opinions, and now I think it’s better to be balanced, read a bit more news and choose carefully our sources.
    Thank you!

    • Thanks, Claire! And yeah, I’m absolutely NOT recommending watching all the news all the time (or even WATCHING any news). But reading a few sources to stay in touch with what’s happening is important both in a good citizen sense, and for your own long-term wellbeing. :-)

  8. Similar to Mark above, I think it’s important to consider the scale of news you choose to consume—be it local, regional, national, or global. One of the reasons I want to retire early is that I’d like to expand my advocacy and volunteering in my local community (Reno, NV), so it’s important to me to keep up with local news on a fairly granular level (though actually doing that is a work in progress). On a national scale, I have a much slimmer chance of being able to affect anything or make person-to-person connections over issues, so keeping up with national news is a lower priority for me.

    What this looks like in practice is listening to NPR regularly to keep up with basic national news, and then following my local reporters on social media, attending public meetings, reading local blogs, and subscribing to local public agency emails to keep up with local news. I don’t have the balance right yet, but I hope to keep zeroing in on a mix that feels good and effective.

    • Staying that plugged in locally is super admirable! Especially since you do still stay in tune with the basics of national and world news. I’d argue that local news by itself isn’t enough, in part because small news outlets have so few resources these days and can’t cover everything, and in part because national events do affect all of us and will eventually trickle down to local in some way.

  9. Thank you for posting this. It’s so frustrating to see people actively tuning out when it can cause real harm to themselves and to marginalized people. The last thing we should be doing is shutting ourselves off from injustice when we have the means to be informed, and then get involved.

  10. I liked this, Tanja, thank you! Dax Shepard and Jon Favreau (from Pod Save America) recently had a related conversation about whether or not it’s worth following political news coverage day-to-day on Dax’s podcast Armchair Expert. Dax argued that it’s not worth spending a lot of time talking about and getting upset about what’s happening in politics if your only involvement is to vote in elections. Jon pointed out that that is a rather privileged stance to take. What happens in politics can really impact people’s daily lives, if not necessarily yours at this moment. Keeping that in mind, I do think we have a responsibility to keep ourselves educated about what’s going on, though it can be a fine balance between obsession/overwhelming frustration and knowledge as power.

    • You’re welcome! I’m definitely on Team Jon on this one, and am sad that Dax said that, especially because with his platform, he actually COULD make a difference in a way that many of us can’t. But that doesn’t mean immersing yourself in all news all the time, so it’s about finding a healthy balance.

  11. I pretty much entirely disagree with this. Your stance seems to imply that the only way to be connected is to intake “the news” from some sort of official source – you can learn things by talking to your neighbors and friends, your town council, mayor’s office, etc. You could be connected to your community be volunteering in it. Volunteer somewhere that people are very different from you and you will quite easily burst your sheltered little bubble. You could even travel to volunteer if your community is too whitebread.

    I have maintained a low information diet for a few years now and it’s working well for me. I nearly always regret “checking the news”, because it’s inevitably all negative/ominous and I can’t really do anything about any of it other than feel bad, which then demotivates me to do anything useful. And yet, as a recent example, I was aware when immigrant families were being separated. Why? Because it was big news, with a big reaction, and everyone was talking about it – pretty much exactly as Pete described. And then I acted on that news.

    I’d also disagree about print media not writing content just to fill space. Even online columns have word length requirements, newspapers need to fill every inch of space, etc. The terms clickbait and listicle come from print media, after all.

    I love learning, but I rarely learn anything from the news because their goal is not to educate. I watch certain Youtube channels (Kurzgesagt, CGP Grey, SciShow) or just read Wikipedia – I can go down a really deep link hole on Wiki if I’m not careful!

  12. I enjoyed the post but what I really came here to say is, “Brit’s Pub is the best!” We go there with my husband’s grandfather whenever we’re in Minneapolis. I love the rooftop in the back. :-) Enjoy.

  13. Growing up my Mom would have the Today show on as she got ready for work/I got ready for school, and for a bit I did that too. It took many years before I realized how commercialized and time consuming morning news shows are, so I rarely turn them on. Now, I am working on mono-tasking and taking in news in a more organized fashion. I start nearly every day with ten minutes in the garden listening to the NPR podcast Up First. And I’m still working to find a system that keeps me informed reasonably efficiently.

  14. I read this recent report from the Rand Corporation, “Truth Decay: An Initial Exploration of the Diminishing Role of Facts and Analysis in American Public Life”

    It discusses the trends of blurring of fact and opinion, and the declining trust of information sources. I think that strongly applies here, whether we have too much or too little news intake in our daily diet.

    I retired back in April of 2017. Before then, my daily workload only allowed a very cursory survey of the news, maybe 20-30 minutes perusing Yahoo! news before digging into the backlog of emails and navigating through meetings and assignments the rest of the day..

    Post-retirement, I found myself at the other end of the spectrum, realizing that reading just one news article rarely uncovered the whole story due to the editorial slant (say Fox News vs Huffington Post) and limited content (two paragraphs instead of two pages). I would frequently deep dive into the more interesting stories, if only for corroboration but sometimes also for greater depth. Needless to say, this consumed a great deal of time, energy, and productivity on my part.

    Why bother, you say? Because news — whether it’s local, national, or global — can have an effect on my quality of life, especially during retirement, and I now have the bandwidth to deal with it. I can be more engaged in local initiatives, be it from my child’s school board or my city’s planning commission. I can make preemptive decisions on household finances and budget based on changing state or federal laws (think taxes), even if I have little or no influence on the laws themselves. That being said, I can also write to my congressperson or contribute to causes that I support, based on my awareness of current events and the changing political climate.

    Now, I do think I spend way too much time following the news; and this is where Tanya’s suggestions are helpful. It seems like the old adage “Everything in moderation” applies here as well. The challenge is to find dependable sources (both formal and informal) that you can trust and accept at face value.

    • I agree with every word of what you wrote! Certainly we’re in tough times for the state of journalism, but the solution is not to tune out. If anything, it’s to engage more and to push back against misleading “news” or opinion dressed up as journalism.

  15. Like Angela, I feel it’s our responsibility to stay tuned in enough to know what’s going on in the world and it doesn’t need to be tuned in until our eyeballs bleed. I do get most of my news tips from Twitter but my feed is curated to have mainly thoughtful people who will discuss issues in depth and aren’t superficial sensation seekers. My feed is also spread across a variety of genres and interests so it’s not all money doomsday articles or the like. We discuss the issues in a thoughtful way privately, not just in the public Twitter forum, so it’s not all just headlines and skimming and alarm.

    I also take periodic breaks from what feels like an onslaught of bad news – at least a few hours off at a time most days, very little consumption on the weekends. Timing matters too. I don’t read news at night before bed, if I’m being wise and that doesn’t apply all the time, I read books and comics and consume other art that reminds me of the beauty in the world.

    It makes a lot of sense to me to stay involved because we order our lives in response to some of the news that’s going on – through political activism when the administration is doing terrible things, or to support people in crises, or to pass on relevant information about jobs and company to people who stay less connected but could use that information. That level of connection makes sense for my life.

  16. As usual you did your research – a wonderful trait I’ve always found unique in the stuff you write! I have been on a low information diet for years in that I never watch news or read trashy magazines but always felt well informed via NPR news and radio. I found in retirement I upped my news consumption via Twitter and FB though the trend really started a couple months before the 2016 election and had to cut that stuff out. I have found i get more in depth news and lifetime learning from podcasts which I can listen to while I do other things. I have and will work for hours stripping and and restaining my fence with informative podcasts. The feeling like you matter part – I agree – that takes work and I’m thankful to live in a community where social interaction is high. I’m still finding my way on the mattering piece but I have some things cooking.

    • Thanks, friend! :-D I think your media consumption makes total sense, as the stuff you’re tuning out is the worst anyway. You’re still staying informed on a daily basis via reputable sources. (Well, not counting FB anyway.) ;-)

      • I threw you a softball there – Which podcasts do you listen to??? I’ll answer it though… I love Stay Tuned with Preet, Pod Save the People/America, and, wait for it, The Fairer Cents. Cheers! I cut out FB completely a couple/few months ago and haven’t been on since. As a quick test, I put on the news last night to check out the fire sitch here in SoCal and it was basically crap on the 2 stations I flipped back and forth between. Glad it’s just over the antenna stuff as I couldn’t imagine paying for it.

      • ;-) You’re the best. CalFire is pretty good for fire info — I never feel like I also need to watch news. And pods: TBH I don’t listen to many super newsy ones because I tend to binge once or twice a week, and am often behind. But faves are Reply All, 99% Invisible, Fresh Air, Revisionist History, Science Vs., Song Exploder, and a few fictional ones. :-)

  17. I tread a middle path – I get my news from talking to people and whatever my friends post on my FB feed. I haven’t seen the nightly news in ages.
    I find it works well – I never miss the important news, but the daily dramas that tend to being you down are now gone.

  18. I always get a news-related hunger in the USA. I can’t handle the way it’s served there, mainly because there is little to none international reporting, fillinng 24h per day with US politics.

    Our routine is simple: watch nightly news. Throughout the day when you feel it’s needed, tune into a good international news. Our go to is France 24 or euro news. They give good overview of international news.

    To me the key is to understand what is going on in the world. Listening just to one country news leads to biases and partisanship…

  19. I like this post a lot, and agree with the idea of moderation. Cable news is out of control- sometimes I catch a glimpse waiting at an airport or doctor’s office and it is designed to be stressful. Print feels more researched, and I can cross reference things easily.

  20. Thoughtful article. I used to be one of those people who listened to NPR constantly in order to be “well informed”. I think I’ve grown to realize that this is just another for of showing off to friends and colleagues. At least I picked a quality news source though. Now I tend to consume my news via daily newspaper, the WSJ specifically. I find that I like the routine of reading the news each morning, the tactile experience of the printed pages, and the accompanying coffee. The consumption cadence seems right too. Rarely does anything happen within a 24 hour period that is something I need to know about.

  21. I’m a CAD drafter, so at my old job, I use to listen to NPR 7 to 8 hours a day while at work…. Not so much now though. People would say “how can you listen to it that much??? I would be so sad all the time!” But honestly, it was a good practice for me not to internalize the news. I had no impact on most of it and most of it had no impact for me. But I enjoy staying up to date, maybe a little too much. And a tip on finding trustworthy news sources…
    See how often a site posts corrections on stories, or if at all. Pay attention to those that are not afraid of saying they made a mistake in a story. This is an example of a provider who cares about accurate content. Just my two cents worth.

    • That is definitely a great tip. A lot of sources post ZERO corrections these days. Not a good sign! And if I’m doing visual work, I can definitely listen to lots and lots of NPR — especially because it’s not all “news.” Some of it is interviews, cultural stuff, etc.

  22. I love your recommendations, and would add in that folks should learn another language. Other countries have far more informative news and you’ll learn a lot about how other folks live if you hear what is on their news in their language. (Podcasts out of many countries are free and have 15-60 minute news versions)

    I would be embarrassed to not care what was happening in my community and the world. How do I look my neighbor in the eye and say, sorry, the fact that your life is in jeopardy due to ICE raids just does not impact me??? Even though my government resources are being used to pay for your oppression.

    So many of the folks who claim to not care about the news know an awful lot about sports statistics, but can’t tell you how many professional athletes engage in domestic violence. Those folks don’t want to know uncomfortable things, and don’t want you to point out that ignoring bad behavior is one thing that allows it to continue. They label things as “news” if they just can’t be bothered to care and then try to elevate their lack of humanity and caring for others as a positive character trait.

    • Such a good suggestion! Yes, we’ve been studying Japanese and brushing up on French and Spanish and I love it. It makes you feel more connected to the world to speak another language. And certainly less connected with the world to tune out what’s happening.

      • Yah, languages! It’s always so fun when someone’s face lights up when you can just say hello in their native tongue!

  23. Hi Tanja. It’s been a while since I wrote. Happy to see you’ve started replying to comments again… really missed that.

    While not the focus of your post, the following caught my eye… “Removing work from your life shrinks your social universe…”. I don’t agree… or at least I don’t think it needs to. We’re not retired yet, but our goal is just to increase what we already do in our free time now (That last line made me smile, we’re raising 3 teenagers, so using the words “free time” is pretty funny). During my work day, I’m talking and emailing ALL day long… but work being work (and more than ever, demanding we squeeze even more into a work day), I really don’t get to socialize much at work anymore. Conversely… when I’m not at work… waiting in line with total strangers at the grocery store, taking a ranger organized group hike in our metroparks on the weekend with others that share a shared interest, sitting in the stands with other parents at a track meet, and on and on… I socialize. Even now, I’ve taken a break from work to be social. So looking forward to having even more time to be social. 3 more years!

    • Finally got through the backlog of things that piled up while in book mode, and so I can happily respond to comments in real-time again! (Yay!)

      It’s awesome you’re able to socialize plenty outside of work, though the research suggests you’re an outlier on that big-time. Post-retirement, many people struggle to find reasons to leave the house whereas before they had no choice. And those chats at the grocery store may be nice in the moment, but they don’t add up to the strong social connections and sense of belonging and mattering that people innately crave. So as always, your particular experience may vary widely from the norm, but that doesn’t change the norm. ;-) I’m sure having three teenage kids at home also helps, and it’s worth thinking about what life will be like, especially socially, after they’re gone. Here’s hoping those last three years breeze by for you, at least on the work front, if not the quality time with kids front. ;-)

  24. Great food for thought! I agree the issue is one of balance, too much and too little information is not healthy. I tend to be one of those lifelong learning, information-seeking types, which my day job does a great job of satisfying. But beyond keeping up with basic local and national news, it is the luxury of time that influences how much news I consume. In this stage of life I have to be more frugal with my time, for better or worse. If only we could figure out how to compound our free time with interest!

    • True! Compounding free time would be amazing! ;-) It’s great you’re being frugal with your time, and given that you’re still keeping up with basic news while doing so, there’s zero issue. Keep it up!

  25. It amazes me how in your face the main stream media has become. It’s is so obnoxious to watch we just quit viewing. Cable unplugged 2 years ago and we are much happier and better informed as to the truth. Our approach these days consist of lots of data points in local/international print and verification via the web.

    It’s actually fun to play investigative reporter and take a news piece and fact check it’s sources thru various means. Pretty amazing what you find when you dig.

    Like one person mentioned it’s good to keep in the local seen also.

    One thing is for sure, completely tuning out is the end of learning which is a slow death.

  26. I consider my grandfather who, in retirement, slowly faded away, and I don’t recall anything he was interested in. It seemed that without his job, he was a mailman, that he lost purpose. My father, who retired about 10 years ago, found a community around one of his lifelong interests; old cars. So he has built a group of friends around their shared interest in old cars. They all have one, and drive them around to car shows in random locations 3 – 10 times a month depending on the season. Every one of my retired family members, all retiring in their 60s, did some variation of making one of their hobbies or interests into their life. I love astronomy, and already am a member of a club in my area, and I suspect that would become a greater aspect of my life.

    I think that is your point; to find a world for yourself where you can be part of a community.

    • Your grandfather’s story is not unique, unfortunately! But I’m so glad to know that your dad has found more of a community. And yes, that is important for our mental health especially! But having a general sense of what’s happening in the world beyond our own bubbles is important, too. :-)

      • Yeah, I agree. I have never really been around people that didn’t feel that way. The problem has been that folks who have diverging positions have had trouble working that out.

        I think the internet will help with that. Our society, human society in this case, is still learning how to incorporate it properly, and I think it will be some time yet before all the new problems it presents are worked out. The only question is how long, and how bad will it get first.

  27. I think setting offline days is a good idea plus avoiding TV news which (most of them) try to get us emotional instead of just telling us the facts. I try to avoid them like the plague and I’m usually checking a few newspapers online and scanning the headlines. Most of the time, the news is unimportant and there’s rarely something worth reading/learning about. I agree that we need to stay connected and know what’s going on, but we shouldn’t waste time on social media or watching the news when we can get “our fix” very easily by scanning some headlines. Also, purposefully seeking out positive news is essential and everyone should do it! We are bombarded with negative news so reading about what’s going good in the world is very much needed.

  28. This is a great push for me. I’ve had a hard time with media consumption over the past couple of years. I found myself deleting all kinds of podcasts from my queue, and I’m not nearly as engrossed in following the news as I used to be. And I’m disappointed in myself for it, because that is exactly the type of defeatist and unhelpful attitude that makes things MUCH worse. Thank you for this perspective!

  29. I stopped consuming most news after the 2016 election. I realized that I had been mostly lied to by the mainstream media for years, and that it is a waste of time to listen to a bunch of delusional “experts” that are wrong about almost every important issue. If you want proof that they are wrong try reading any news article from a year ago.