A few years ago I found myself reading/viewing media ‘information’ simply to have something interesting to think about and look at. Much of it was depressing- in a fascinating way.
I found myself immersed in news about surface-to-air missiles and the reality of nuclear bombs falling into the hands of unstable governments; state-sponsored genocides; dirty bomb threats directed at the US, and the rants of a mad dictator who continues to ignore his starving people. I absorbed stories about awful human beings doing terrible things to other human beings. I anguished about countries that were falling apart. I worried about terrifying diseases in Africa, for which there are no cures. And killer pandemic flu strains that threatened all of us.
I was pummeled by the antics of inane, potentially dangerous establishment politicians.
I became an avid ‘information’ junkie mired in a dangerous world.
Each morning I drank in the latest natural disasters with my coffee. There was so much Bad News filling the TV and my computer (a marvelous tool I’d apparently weaponized- against myself) that I became more and more depressed and angry.
One day I opened the computer and printed out the day’s Drudge Report, Fox, CNN and other alphabet news outlets, hunting for substantive news. Then I blacked out all stupid, horrible, sad, ridiculous or prurient stories- and those that were none of my business (i.e.- what Patrick Swayze’s dying words were, or watching/reading about an athlete who beat his wife unconscious in an elevator).
(Good God! I’d become a voyeur.)
90% of the offerings were rubbish- or N.O.M.B.
About 10% was actual ‘news.’
Years ago, TV news was offered for 30-60 minutes daily. Then the ‘powers-that-be’ switched to 24/7 news.
BUT. There were not nearly enough substantive, fact-filled reports to fill 24 hours of every day. So info-hungry journalists began to introduce ‘filler’ material - sensational things- about who had eaten someone, or been eaten (by crocs, for example): about bigwigs coping with painful kidney stones or prostates: about disconnected souls who had stored their dead mother/aunt/pet in the broom closet or bedroom for years, about dogs frozen to death on their chains. ...and on and on.
Worse, reporters began shaping news reports with their descriptive adjective word choices, thus subtly, gradually shaping public opinion. Fascinated viewers like me absorbed prurient or embarrassing photos or read gossip. Everyone alive- or dead- was fair game, such as singer/dancers with ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ or even gassed Middle East women and children. The Holy Grail? To expand readership.
Never mind ‘mind rot.’
Good taste’s ‘red line’ has been tossed overboard.
Take TV ads, for instance. People moan about their hemorrhoids; men fret over drooping fifth appendages; women are victims of toenail fungus, psoriasis or vaginitis. Shingles and cold sore sufferers groan; overactive bladders pull their owners around in crowded bowling alleys and smiling ‘loaded’ pink lower bowels tiptoe daintily through fine restaurants. These sorts of ads, repeated over and over and over, saturate a brain. (Which is exactly the goal.) Today, absolutely nothing is off-limits.
(Remember that appealing ad for a breakfast cereal featuring a delightful child-actor called Mikey, way back when?)
Positive news sells. It does. But the media makes sure it always has an awful beginning- a California bear or puppy severely burned in a wildfire is saved and suffering less in a veterinary hospital because of painkillers, and though crippled, would eventually be placed in a zoo, or adopted. A child with terminal cancer is awarded a trip to Disney World...
I’d hold stories like these close to my heart. But they chipped away at my emotional reserve bit by bit.
More and more bad news registered less and less on my emotional scale, until daily ingestion had dialed down this human being’s sensitivity/revulsion meter to nearly Zero.
I knew this because I would watch cartoon bowels moving, or view or read about unthinkable atrocities or incredibly bad political moves- and my meter wouldn’t even twitch.
I noted two facts:
1. Inevitably, Terrible things were happening every day somewhere, that I didn’t need to know.
2. Though I couldn’t fix the problems I was seeing and reading about, I. Was. Absorbing. Them.
Exposure to the soul-killing avalanche of life’s seamy side was obliterating the few reasoned images or comments that managed to surface.
I SO wanted to be happier- and feel cleaner.
Was this possible?
I scribbled the name of the worst culprit.
There was only one thing to do to save myself:
I quit. ‘Cold Turkey.’
Television and computer ‘newspapers’- including Drudge, Fox, CNN, MSNBC, CBS and all the other ‘information’ networks (and papers like the Wall Street Journal and NYT) were eliminated for one trial year. I’d use my computer to write articles, check the weather, email dear friends, read science, watch and listen to music on YouTube, watch TED and research questions about anything that interested me.
Then I’d see.
I spent the first unplugged weeks deeply anxious, desperate for input and occasionally tearful. I needed my fix! What if I was missing something???
And then, I realized that some things WERE missing!! Helplessness. Despair. Deep sadness. Unfocused Rage.
Gradually, oh so gradually, I began to feel- lighter- for their absence.
I felt cleaner.
My husband kept me informed about national and world events in a general way.
After few weeks my depression and anxiety lessened. But- there were times I was sooo tempted to go back.
Staying clean- and un-manipulated- was going to be hard.
Deeper change took much longer.
Exactly a year later, in January of 2017, I switched on a TV. And was shocked. SHOCKED- to find myself knee-deep in the same muck I did not need to know, and could never make better. Rapes. Murders. Molestations. The torture of animals and children. Lies. Endless international horrors and disasters. Oh, and a tiny smattering of useable information. This time, I was repelled, exactly as I would have been thirty years ago.
I had successfully revived my sensitivity button.
To invite rot into my kitchen every fresh, unsullied morning is now unthinkable.
My mental health has hugely improved. Unplugged for two years I’ve slowly relearned our world’s more familiar everyday realities, bumps, little flops and triumphs. I’ve relaxed into a better appreciation of children, who view the world with fresh, optimistic eyes. I’m learning to adopt Bryn-dog’s philosophy of living for now and loving the moment. I go outside, even in really snowy weather, to play and explore. I have more time to think, and I’ve noticed a bounce in my step.
We recently returned two dusty TV connector boxes to Spectrum. One had been connected to a tiny TV that sits in the basement in front of the treadmill (which I’m quite happy to run on while listening to a story); another came from the living room’s flat screen TV that we now use most evenings to enjoy programs featuring classic films, science, history and travel documentaries we can view free, or rent for two bucks from Amazon and Netflix.
Only one connector box is left, attached to a very small, out-of-sight TV that will keep us informed during a national emergency.
We won’t use it otherwise.
Not involved with social media, the internet’s daily disaster reports, or my iphone’s various info apps doesn’t mean I’ve retired into an elderly Lala Land. I like to ride motorcycles and romp with my dog; I read history, horticulture and medicine, study and try to sing lovely classical and popular music well, and I keep my critical thinking skills honed. A vigorous, reasoned debate about current issues is always fun.
I know what I need to know, with Dirt, Disinformation and its constant companion, Despair, routinely hosed away.
Life feels so Good!