Why I Never Check the News

I can hardly regret having escaped the appalling waste of time and spirit which would have been involved in reading the war news or taking more than an artificial and formal part in conversations about the war. To read without military knowledge or good maps accounts of fighting which were distorted before they reached the Divisional general and further distorted before they left him and then “written up” out of all recognition by journalists, to strive to master what will be contradicted the next day, to fear and hope intensely on shaky evidence, is surely an ill use of the mind.

Even in peacetime I think those are very wrong who say that school-boys should be encouraged to read the newspapers. Nearly all that a boy reads there in his teens will be known before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance. Most of what he remembers he will therefore have to unlearn; and he will probably have acquired an incurable taste for vulgarity and sensationalism and the fatal habit of fluttering from paragraph to paragraph to learn how an actress has been divorced in California, a train derailed in France and quadruplets born in New Zealand.

— C.S. Lewis reflecting on World War I in Surprised by Joy

When I crack open a copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost, I’m reading the news. When I watch All the Presidents Men, Take Shelter or Citizen Kane, I’m watching the news. When I ask friends what they’ve been thinking through, what they’ve felt recently, what they’re reading or what movies struck a chord with them, I’m asking about the news.

Oxford’s American Dictionary describes “news” as newly received or noteworthy information. I’d switch out that or for an and. Most of Lewis’s last line describes newly received information, but none of it is truly noteworthy. Trains derail. Californian actresses divorce. Women give birth to quadruplets. What’s noteworthy about any of that? Nothing.

Now if my son was riding that train, I’d take note. If the Californian actress was my mother, we’d have something to talk about. If my wife gave birth to quads, I certainly wouldn’t finish up this post on hypotheticals. Noteworthy information comes through the interest we find in significant relationships. If I want to learn about what’s happening in Afghanistan, I ask my friends who live there. Fox News won’t give it to me – according to a new study, people who only watch Fox News know less about world events than people who watch no television. You gain nothing from striving “to master what will be contradicted the next day.” George Orwell taught us that. I assume the same sort of ignorance could be found among any news station’s audience, especially since the same six corporations own every station on T.V. Small wonder all of these independent news stations cropped up over the last few years.

Beyond this, significant relationships grow us. Half or more of the books I’ve recommended on here came to me from people I care about. Reflection happens best in community. In fact, reflection on the old books, the deep films, the late-night conversations with close friends – deep reflection on things that matter catapults us into greatness. New breakthroughs never come from news. Newness sprouts out of reflection, out of old truth discussed with old friends over coffee.

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So no, I didn’t hear or see what that person said or did on whatever network holds your loyalties. I was too busy reading or watching or talking about something I’ll remember five years from today.

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