Recently I have been on a news fast. So for the past few months I have been blissfully unaware of what news editors, talk show hosts, entertainment editors, and celebrity-gossipers have decided was important for me to know.
Instead of morning news, I listen to Serius XM’s Classical & Spa channels or tech news and business podcasts that I’ve downloaded to my tablet. And instead of watching the evening news, I’ve been going for walks and sitting on the porch with my wife, enjoying a couple of beers as the sun goes down. And instead of anything related to serious public affairs (real-life “who-done-its” or probing analysis of the latest scandal, etc.), we’ve been going straight to Netflix for some light entertainment. I get my weather from a quiet web page that never confronts me with urgent threats and vague promises to give me “details at 11:00!!” So, all-in-all, I am happily ignorant of which famous political figures are hurling insults at their peers.
No. I haven’t been a complete hermit. Brief visits to Facebook and Google Plus have kept me in touch with the people I care about. And when interesting news leaks into my world from my online friends, I go after the stories on my own terms through a Google search or a news aggregator like Feedly.
These simple practices have contributed substantially to my peace of mind! I do not “tune in” to a full news program so the media can scream at me about a bunch of sensationalistic nonsense that I don’t care about. Instead, I consciously go after the stories. In short, I am my own news curator. And it’s been great!
Shock and Awe
The other morning I learned from my online weather feed that there was a huge storm system brewing in the center of the country, so I decided to turn on the TV for the national news and see how this storm might impact my far-flung friends and relatives.
Wow! Was that ever a mistake! After months without screaming headlines, newscasters’ warnings of doom and gloom and scandal-driven celebrity gossip, I had completely forgotten how jarring and downright disturbing this stuff could be. In just a few minutes’ time I was slammed with gory details about a journalist’s beheading, rumors of new terrorist threats, the further spread of the Ebola epidemic and some nonsense about a famous sports figure who was caught up in a sex scandal. I could feel my blood pressure rising — and my peace of mind evaporating — as this stuff washed over me. After about 10 minutes of this drek, I deciding that waiting for their summary of weather developments just wasn’t going to be worth the negative crap I’d have to wade through.
Now here’s the thing: Because I had spent months without it, I had completely forgotten how intensely disturbing this junk could be. Worse, there was nothing I could do about any of it! There was absolutely nothing actionable*! And in the case of the sports figure’s sex scandal, I simply felt like a peeping Tom staring in this guy’s bedroom window. This was just none of my business! And the talking heads that disingenuously pretended to explain this stuff through their “analysis” were just adding their own half-baked speculation, “what if” hand-wringing and “witch hunt” rants to the mix.
The result: These few minutes of abrasive national news, after a blissful couple of months without it, convinced me that my home-made, tech-driven process of sifting and sorting my own news was the only way to go!
News Curation: Taking Charge of Your Own News Stream
When you visit a collection in a museum or library or art gallery, there is usually a theme that ties the items in the collection together. The curator has carefully chosen objects that support a theme. Instead of simply dumping hundreds of items onto the display floor, the curator consciously selects, sequences, labels and organizes them.
Similarly, you can think of yourself as the curator of your own news. Instead of letting all the media outlets bury you in random stories, you can use tools like Feedly, Pocket, Netvibes, Zinio, TuneIn Radio, etc. to pick and choose the news sources and news stories that you want to know more about. (More on the mechanics of this in the video below.)
These tools will let you apply your own criteria, based on what you personally value, to sort through the days “news” and control what invades your consciousness. For example, here are some questions I ask myself when I am trying to decide whether a news source or particular article/video is worth my time:
- Is this content stream coming at me uninvited or am I inviting it in?
- After two minutes in this stream do I feel better or worse?
- Does this stream enhance my peace of mind and sense of well being? (If not, why I am I exposing myself to it?)
- Is there something actionable* here? (Can I DO something about it? Or is it simply peeping Tom gossip or fear-mongering sensationalism?)
- (And when I get headlines from an agitated friend breathlessly bearing news, I say:) “No, I haven’t heard that. Explain it go me. What does it mean to you?” (Then I add it to my list to be curated & researched if I’m really interested.)
Check out my YouTube video “Curate Your Own News: Why & How.” It illustrates why you should curate your own news and describes some specific tech tools that can help you do so. It could help you reclaim your peace of mind! Enjoy.
* Some Thoughts on “Actionable” News
By “actionable news” I mean any news stories that can lead you to get out of your chair and take a specific action of some sort. It’s important to distinguish this kind of news from the gossip and sensationalism — the kind of stuff that captures your attention (like a 75-car pile up on a freeway) — that you simply can’t do anything about.
So let’s say you learn about a terrible, but legal, injustice that has been inflicted upon someone and it really stirs you up emotionally. This is a potentially “actionable” news story. Here are some positive, productive actions you might take:
- Do some research and become informed about the laws related to this story so you can figure out how you might help.
- Get involved with an advocacy group that helps victims of such laws.
- Get involved with a political action committee who is trying to change such laws.
- Become an activist and write letters, call lawmakers, demonstrate, etc.
In contrast, here are some useless, negative actions in response to the story:
- Tune in to TV or radio talk shows that rant, inflame and otherwise exploit the story and allow you to relive the feelings again and again.
- Spend time digging up overly-opinionated blog posts, podcasts, etc. that also exploit the story.
- Rehash the story with all your friends so they can experience (over and over and over!) all the negative feelings you have about the story.
- Tweet or make Facebook posts that complain and rant and blame, but that do not advocate a single, specific positive action that can make things better.
Can you feel the difference in the two kinds of responses? So here’s the deal: News stories — especially “actionable” news stories — can help make the world a better place if you use them as a springboard for positive action. It’s up to you, as curator of your personal news feed and the master of your own actions, to figure out how to alchemize these stories and the emotions they generate into a better world!