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October 17, 2017

I’ve been pondering lately about how overwhelming it is to follow the news. So many terrible things happening around the world. Multiple debilitating category 5 hurricanes, and the resulting troubles in the Caribbean. Northern California wild fires. Earthquakes in Mexico. Bombing in Mogadishu. Syria. North Korea. Political unrest in Catalunya. Flooding. Droughts. NAFTA negotiations. American politics. Mass shooting in Las Vegas. Global warming. Melting glaciers. Extinction. It seems that every day, something else terrible happens. Each time I click on Facebook, Google News, or Twitter. Each time I turn on the TV. Or walk by a newsstand. So many thoughts that there isn’t any bandwidth to think. So many prayers that there isn’t enough time to pray. And if nuclear tragedy is going to befall the world at any moment, does anything I do even matter? Does it matter that I’ve taught my child how to be patient, or the difference between “up” and “down”? Does it matter if I can research a way to decrease injury by 5 %? Increase outcomes by 5 points? Even though people tell me what I do is important, it all seems so trivial.

We’ve been watching through Star Trek TNG episodes. And it strikes me how every episode involves some terrible thing that might kill everyone on board at any moment, and yet people still can prioritize the little life events. The Borg may be on their way in an hour, but by golly Captain Picard must pause to officiate a wedding first. How do you continue to live your life, when the world is crumbling around you?

Recently I also read about an interview with a centenarian, where she discussed the secret to longevity. A centenarian certainly has lived through world horrors. Both World Wars, for example. And it’s always very simple. Keep active, eat well, sleep well. Like the secret to being happy is not trying to stay abreast with world events.

What is right?

Knowing about the world events and trying to bias the world toward the better? For example, knowing about the dangers of plastics in the oceans can indeed help us make better day-to-day choices. Knowing about current cultural and world issues helps us be more compassionate to our fellow human beings. Each positive step counts.

But on the other hand, trying to keep up with events, in a time when horrible things seem to happen in rapid succession, overwhelms the senses. There are so many factors. So much nuance. It can leave you without emotional endurance to do anything. It’s paralyzing.

Facebook is a big part of the problem. A platform that was once a medium to share about your life - where you went to eat, where you’re traveling, what your kids are up to - is now a place where people share links to articles about some social injustice or some other tragedy. People arguing their political stance. Stuff you’d never had learned about someone in the past. I’d gotten used to going to Facebook to see how my friends were doing. But now, I have to sift through politics and world events, facts and opinions, truths and exagerations, filtered through the eyes of my friends, and echoed until it drowns out everything else. Do I need to watch every person who decides to dump ice water on their heads? Or read about each person who decides to post “Me too” on their feed? Or change their profile pic to have a border in support of whatever thing is trending? Is it going to make me a better person, or just more exhausted?

Google News is another problem. The more you click on a topic, the more of that topic it presents you. A trivial example: these days every small thing about Zelda BOTW ends up on my newsfeed. And it’ll keep showing up because I will keep clicking on them. But the same is happening with other things. Google News thinks I want to read about US politics? North Korea? Tragedies? Here’s more tragedies. Here’s more analysis on these tragedies. It’s not a balanced presentation of the news, the way picking up a newspaper used to be.

Anyway, I’ve ranted about the state of news before. But this barrage of “news” is making me consider more and more about whether it is better to know about everything and be paralyzed by it. Or, knowing there isn’t anything I can do to fix these situations, save my mental bandwidth for my own life. Because I know I would be a happier and more productive human being if I did.