Personal media blackout?
Have you ever done a personal media blackout? I'm curious, because a quick tweet I sent out this morning made me wonder if perhaps I wasn't the only person feeling less enriched by, but instead more burdened with, the knowledge I was seeking out about the world around me. I've done minor versions of such blackouts before, with my biggest ones taking place during collegiate finals weeks to ensure I focused on my studies, but that was at least three lifetimes ago. Years later, information presses in even more constantly and subtly. It used to be that our sphere of knowledge coincided with our sphere of influence, but now we hear, actively follow, and care about occurrences that are far beyond our ability to influence, much less control.
Here's what I wonder, though: how does this torrent of current-events knowledge help me, past the ability to win a few rounds of Trivial Pursuit? I would like to be aware of information that is truly relevant to me, but I think I could acquire that knowledge with less exposure to the Informational Superhighwayfirehose.
Traditional means of consumption
- Television: I actively watch maybe an hour or two per week, and none of it is news programming. Passively, I pick up more because Jeff watches a few shows that I don't, and I hear bits and pieces of those shows when I'm sewing in the kitchen. We have a TiVo, but it's mostly for Jeff's use now.
- Radio: I vacillate between listening to NPR on my commute (23 minutes) when I'm not listening to music on my iPod or calling a couple of friends.
- Newspapers: none.
- Magazines: none on a regular basis. The Economist maybe once every 4-6 weeks, when I feel like picking up a copy.
The devil's in the details, though: the hybrid infotainments I consume online.
I consume news online from a small set of sources: BBC, Reuters, CNN, NPR. My job as a webmaster dictates that unless I'm on vacation, I can't choose to not open a web browser for a week. I could, however, restrict what I choose to read, and choose not to read news for a set period of time. That would be difficult but manageable.
Twitter is about 80/20 worth keeping for a news blackout, because I use it to keep up with members of the open source community whose software I use at work, and personal updates from friends. I'd have to make a conscious choice to not follow any links my friends post that look like they might even be remotely newsworthy. Thanks to work, I can't really turn it off.
My Google Reader inbox is a combination of news, comics, Not-Quite-News, posts from friends, and posts on topics of personal interest. Lately, I've been completely zeroing out the news and comics unread. The Not-Quite-News, like metafilter, I keep for when I'm itching to idly consume trivia. The posts from friends I'd like to keep, but the world wouldn't end if I didn't look at them daily. I'd miss the posts on personal-interest topics the most: things like quilting blogs that actively feed my brain and don't contribute to media overload. (At least, I don't think so.)
I feel vaguely guilty for even considering doing such a blackout. The idea that a knowledgeable person is one who is conversant in current news and happenings is one that is deeply ingrained in our culture as well as my psyche. I don't think doing a media blackout makes me stupid -- it is not that black-and-white -- but I am indeed choosing to cut myself off from knowledge for a while because I don't believe what I gain is worth the price I pay for it. I am not paying for it in dollars, but I am paying for it in intellectual and emotional attention.
When people ask me how I found the time to sew, my stock answer quickly became "I stopped watching television." I find myself wondering what I'd get back if I stopped my news consumption for a while. Perhaps a week to start with, just to see if it's worth doing?