The 3 levels of the News Diet

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By Robert Gehrlach

Recently I went on a diet. It was my first ever diet, and an unusual one on top of that. It was not food that I cut out of my diet, it was the Daily News. And ever since I have been on this diet, my productivity, well-being and creativity have improved noticeably.

Before I went on this diet, I checked the daily news several times of the day. I skimmed through the list of headlines and sometimes read an article or two. After the ritual has been performed, I felt ‘informed’.

The news media is in trouble

Except that I was not informed. Daily News were probably never the best source for well researched and in depth investigative journalism, but recent developments have hardly improved the situation.

For one, the shift away from print to online media and the disruption of classical daily news business models resulted in a long and continuing decline of profitability of the news industry, and along with it the quality of much of the daily news we consume. This is especially true for online news: even the New York Times, not long ago hailed as a beacon of hope, is struggling with a continuing loss of online advertising revenue and slow online subscription growth.

There are many reasons for this decline. The most important one is the low value that we, the consumers, place on being informed. If we are not willing to pay for high quality journalism, we have little right to complain about diminishing quality. Our unwillingness to pay for quality information makes it difficult for the media to reconcile a desire to maintain market share and profitability with the vision of an impartial ‘Fourth Estate’ informing the public.

But there is yet another major difference between today’s news and those in the offline era. Essentially, news editors simply became too clever for their own good.

Nowadays, editors and journalists know exactly what core readers and potential new customers are most likely to click on, share, comment on, and read. It has proven too difficult to resist the temptation to trade more clicks and thus higher advertising revenue for lower content quality by adapting the product to the user’s consumption behaviour. And direct real time feedback from your behaviour to the news editor is why the daily news are bad for you.

6 reasons why the daily news is bad for you

1 Negative bias

Editors know, for example, that disaster news is generally more popular with their readership than stories about scientific breakthroughs in energy research. They simply respond to the negative bias of their readership: humans are predisposed to focus on negative news over positive news. And they give us what we ‘want’: the large majority of the news we consume is negative, creating a picture of a world that is far more dangerous, depressing and hopeless than it really is. Whist this distorted reality is what we crave, it is detrimental to our wellbeing and the opposite of what we really need: a hopeful, realistic outlook on the world that encourages active engagement with the world around us.

2 Sensationalism and poor coverage of important issues

We thirst for excitement and distraction. Sensationalist stories are dominating the news and important but less stimulating issues are poorly covered. How often do you see articles discussing topics such as education, incentive structures in the political system or the threat of the rising complexity of our world to our institutions’ ability to make proactive in the headlines?

3 Echo chambers

We love to remain in our comfort zone, and are often allergic to views and opinions that oppose our own, even if they are rationally convincing. As a consequence, we often only read a limited selection of newspapers that support our existing views. This is especially true if consume news via social media. Whilst this is what we want, we actually need to leave our echo chambers and be subjected and listen to the opinions and views of the people from ‘the other side’. Only this way can we understand one another and replace the feeling of antagonism with one of connectedness and prepare for respectful dialogue.

4 Lack of depth and context

We are short on time and are living in a world of an increasing number of distractions. Therefore, news articles tend to become more simplified and often include even shorter summaries to cater to time-poor readers. For the same reason, news also often lacks the necessary context or information on the underlying systemic issues when presenting information. This lack of depth and context can sometimes result in news-snippets that are generating the illusion of information, but actually are, in their entirety, merely a plethora of disinformation.

5 News cycle

We have short attention spans. That is why the news reports on certain news stories excessively for a limited period of time, followed again by silence regarding the former hype topic. The loss of coverage of the specific topic by the news creates the illusion of a simultaneous loss of relevance of the topic, for example in the case of the Panama Papers. More importantly, this phenomenon known as ‘The News Cycle’ creates the illusion that everything that is important happens now, and lets us disregard the importance of historical developments and ancient wisdom for our daily lives.

6 Information overload

We have limited bandwidth and ability to manage information. Frequent news checking contributes to a general overload of information and subsequent conditioning towards mindlessly seeking out information stimuli. This can have potentially negative consequences for our ability to learn and retain information.

There are of course many other challenges, such as Fake News, a decline in the public’s trust into the news media and tendentious reporting, but I guess you get the picture.

Go on a diet!

These and other reasons result in more and more people subconsciously avoiding the daily news, as they realise that they simply feel better this way. So I too began to ask myself a number of questions:

1. When was the last time I received important information via the daily news which I would otherwise have missed?

2. When was the last time I made a better decision after reading the daily news?

3. When was the last time reading the daily news gave me a new idea?

4. When was the last time I felt positive and motivated after reading the daily news?

5. What is the last positive and progressive daily news I can report?

6. When was the last time I gained a new and important insight into a systemic issue our world is facing?

My answers to these questions were revealing and motivated me to start a systematic daily news diet. I completely stopped reading or watching daily news.

Since I started this diet, the lack of information overload and regular disruptions resulted in rising productivity, concentration and increased focus during my day. The lack of constant influx of negative stories was a further benefit. At the same time, I felt that by avoiding the daily exposure to news snippets lacking depth and explanatory power I started to spend more time exploring interesting issues in depth myself, often resulting in interesting observations and input for conversations with friends and colleagues. What was surprising was that really important information reached me almost without any delay regardless, via friends and other sources.

Four months into the diet, I feel absolutely no need to go back to consuming daily news. Whilst there might be some drawbacks to the diet, such a possible lack of small talk topics related to current affairs, the overall advantages outweigh the disadvantages for me. Especially as there are great alternatives to daily news.

Nutritious alternatives

Remaining ignorant to what is happening in the world is not an option for most of us. A news diet therefore should ideally still offer you a balanced diet of information. According to your preferences, you can choose from three levels for the diet:

Level 1: The Beginners Diet:

Try to increase the times between checking the news, for example check the news every 3 days only and switching off your news notifications on your phone. Whilst this diet helps you become more productive, it does not yet address any other of the issues mentioned in the previous section. It is a good start though to test out the waters of the ‘No Daily News’ life.

Level 2: The Balanced News Diet:

Completely avoid all daily news and instead only read and buy (!) weekly or monthly news magazines, such as ‘The Economist’, or subject specific magazines that interest you, for example the ’Harvard Business Review’ or the ’MIT Technology review’. These magazines often offer more in depth reports and address underlying issues, therefore providing you with a more nutritious news diet. Another great source of in depth information are essays found in publications such as ‘The Atlantic’ or ‘The New Yorker’ and in-depth documentaries, such as the ones by Adam Curtis.

Level 3: The Hardcore Diet.

This diet is for the most extreme souls amongst us. Avoid all news and only read essays on selected blogs and quarterly or yearly magazines, for example the ‘Le Monde Diplomatique’ yearly review. At the same time, increase your consumption of classic and contemporary works of literature, philosophy and the arts in form of books.

Over to you

Personally, I found Level 2 to be a good compromise, and would encourage anyone to at least try out cutting down on the news to make up their own minds. You might be surprised by how much better your life can be if you cut out a previous essential.

Robert Gehrlach is a senior consultant at mm1 in Berlin and a student of life. He is passionate about sustainable innovation, technology and society.

Note: Robert has also published this article on medium.com

 

A Photograph Per Day: Practicing Mindfulness through Art

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By Niki Sol

Two years ago, a friend of mine started a photography project where he took one picture each day for the entirety of 2015. For him, the project gave him an opportunity to experiment with his photography and try new techniques. He posted each new picture to Instagram and I found myself looking forward to seeing what he chose to share with his network each day. Some photographs were of his family (including his infant daughter), people he saw on the streets, objects in everyday life, or places he might visit (his pictures of a trip to Dachau were particularly resonating). As 2015 wound down, I began to flirt with the idea that I should try my own photography project for the coming year. I was starting a new chapter of my life, moving back to the UK after a two-year absence to start a new career as an academic. I had no idea what might unfold and the idea that I could share that journey with my own network of friends and family appealed to me.

 

Day 45: Jarabe Tapatio

 

The Artist Within Us
I believe we each have an artist of some sort in us, but too often many of us feel we cannot “indulge” that part of us. The past decade of personal trials and tribulations taught me that indulging our creative side is often exactly what we need for our well-being. I too often get caught up in my own headspace about what I have been doing wrong or what I should be doing, instead of simply being mindful of what was happening around me in that moment. Thus my photo project, titled 2016, commenced as I arrived in the UK on 1 January, 2016.

 

Day 191: Up

 

If you were to look at my 366 photographs in one sitting, you would notice certain themes emerge: dogs, nature, and architecture. You would probably also note that I like to play with light a lot in my pictures. Some of the pictures (particularly of architecture, performances, and street art) are already meant to be admired by the passerby. These pieces call out to people saying, “Look at me! I am art!” Capturing those instances of someone else’s art reminded me of other people’s interpretations of their experience. We should, more often, take the opportunity to stop and enjoy what others have created for us to engage with.

 

Day 261: Doubles Anyone?

 

But I also love the moments that simply occurred around me: the beauty of a moment that is finite whether because of movement (of myself, others, or the sun) or time. I found myself looking beyond my destination (must get to work, need to start this, have to finish that) and enjoying my journey through the day. Walks to somewhere became adventures. What would I see? Who would cross my path? And my photographs reflected this. I found humour and splendor, sadness and hope. I paid attention to creatures big and small as they went about their days. I saw moments where nature punched me in the gut with its awesomeness.

 

Day 99: Morning Nap

 

Being Mindfulness 

Interestingly as the year ended people in my Facebook network reached out to me to thank me for 2016, even individuals that I am not particularly close with. They told me how much they enjoyed my photographs and the feelings those photos conveyed. On social media (even though we might have a large network of friends), those we might not engage with regularly often move to the periphery of our lives even if we all still have a window into each other’s worlds. The connection that my art made beyond my intended audience of family and close friends reminded me how linked we are.

 

Day 216: Raindrops

 

Now that the project is done, I notice my increased mindfulness in my daily life. I attribute this in part to 2016. I engage more with the world around me in a way that allows me to appreciate moments like those captured in my photographs. Instead of hurrying to “what’s next”, I intentionally experience the time and space I am in. And I am grateful that sharing these instances with my social circles (small and large) has brought more of a connection to the beautiful world around us. I take these lessons with me into the new year and look for new ways that I might engage with my surroundings.

Niki Sol is a dog lover, redundancy collector, and scholar of intersectionality and interculturalism in higher education. Follow her on Instagram (sunluff) and Twitter (@DrNikiSol).”

Have you heard about the Miracle Mornings?

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By Nina Gustafson

I work in academia in Cambridge. Lately I have felt that this work takes the best out of me. Although I like what I do I have had an increasingly strong feeling that this can’t be it; there has got to be something more to life. There are always friends and family but everything seems to follow a given path. Moreover, I don’t seem to be alone having feelings of doubts but many of my friends and colleagues have given voice to similar thoughts of questioning and discontent (deep dissatisfaction is probably closer to the truth). So I started wondering what to do with my life: potential new careers, new hobbies and life changes in general.

While I was browsing the web for things to spice up my life and give it an extra spark, I spotted the book  “The miracle morning: the 6 habits that will transform your life before 8am”, written by Hal Elrod. Of course I had to buy it! The main thought is fairly easy: get up one hour earlier in the morning than you are used to and do things you didn’t think you had time for. In return you make things happen, become a doer, which hopefully transfers into the rest of the day and keeps you energised. Hal decided to squeeze in six different short, energizing activities in his hour: silence/meditation, reading, affirmations, visualisation, journal of gratefulness and exercise. Too good to be true? Well, I decided to give it a shot.

My very own miracle morning

Early December I started my own miracle morning journey. I drew on Hal when I decided on what to do during my miracle mornings and my first version included affirmations/visualisation, meditation, yoga/workout, reading and developing a skill (initially I tried to learn how to play the guitar but I have put that on hold to not annoy my neighbours). Soon enough I felt it became too stressful to fit six activities into one hour and I skipped a few of them to be able to give 15 minutes to each activity. This approach suited me better. Left was:

  • Reading. Devoting some time each day to read books I never have time for otherwise. I decided to go for inspiring or happy books, after all it is supposed to be a miracle morning. First out was of course the Miracle morning itself.
  • Affirmations. What a positive way to start your morning! The web is full of them. I like the ones I found on chi-nese.com but there are several others.
  • Yoga. I have practiced yoga for fifteen years on and off, and always dreamed of practicing it daily, but never succeeded. Kino MacGregor is a Miami based yogi which I have followed for years. She is a very advanced Ashtanga yoga practitioner (I believe she managed to get through the fourth series of five which is quite an achievement) but very good at explaining the basics as well. On her Youtube chanel KinoYoga, I noticed that she had a one month beginner yoga challenge with daily practice which I decided to commit to. I am really surprised that I managed to stick to this new routine but so far I haven’t missed a day. It is probably a combination of me dedicating a specific time for me but also that this yoga program started with only 10-15 minutes practice each day and slowly built it up to longer practice (me being used to 50-90 minutes which could be too much when you first aim for a daily practice).
  • Writing. I have talked about writing books for several years and with my new inspiration I signed up for a writing course aimed at writing a first draft in ten weeks. All done in the mornings.

The Result

A few weeks later, I feel much happier, more energized and my only problem is how to fit in everything I want to do in my mornings. I have thus started to get up even earlier but I also find myself restructuring my days to fit other activities in as well: lunch walks, taking up running and meditation in the evenings which makes me sleep much better and thus getting more productive in the days. It’s a win-win situation really. What had to give way? Mainly reading e-mails and other activities on the web which I realized were stealing too much time but also the time I spent on work. It is sometimes more effective to take a break than to continue when your brain needs to rest. I finally realised that.

With the new year coming up, I encourage you to create time for your very own miracle morning. It doesn’t matter what you do, but do it! Make it a daily habit to do something important for you for one hour each morning, which will give you more energy during the rest of the day. I wish you the best of luck!

Nina Gustafson is originally from the Stockholm area in Sweden but currently lives in Cambridge in the UK. She is a sociologist by training and works in academia. Her blog posts cover high and low subjects but with a clear focus on the academic life and other joys of life such as cooking/dinners, yoga, travels and much more.

 

What makes me happy?

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Every Thursday I wake up in anticipation. It’s the day that a column called ‘That which enriches my Life’- ‘Was mein Leben reicher macht’ is published in the German newspaper Die Zeit. People like you and me let us know about a special  moment that makes them happy. Let me tell you about some of the moments that readers have shared recently. I hope they will make you smile, too.

That which enriches my life

Waking up each morning to see the tousled mane of my girlfriend. Very sexy! (Joachim)

In the morning after the US elections, I talked with my six year old son about the results. After that, he stormed over to his mother and yelled: “Mama, Mama, Donald Duck is president!” I continued with my breakfast thinking why can’t it be like that? (Christian)

A little while ago, a man asked me for a coffee to go in our coffee shop. I told him that we do not use paper cups for environmental reasons, and offered him a porcelain cup with the request to bring it back. The weeks passed and I promised myself to never, ever….until yesterday when this young man appeared again in our coffee shop and pulled the cup out of his coat. (Bernd)

Our dog hunts with great pleasure the fallen colorful leaves. At yesterday’s evening walk, he found a shimmering blue leave: a 20 Euro note. The discovery was rewarded with three cookies. (Claudia)

The smell of quinces, sweet blue figs, and above us the cranes are passing by. (Peter)

I was expecting a storm and instead experienced a sunny autumn week on the island ‘Hallig Hooge’. (Peter)

The driver, who was driving really slowly through the huge puddle when she came around the corner in order to avoid splashing me – ‘the pedestrian’; and there was also time for a smile. (Lars)

The last fruit fly this year went home in peace. (Angela)

(Adapted from a column called ‘Was mein Leben reicher macht’ in ‘Die Zeit’)