I have a secret. One I prefer stay mine, but I need to tell you the secret in order to make another point. So here we go.
My secret is: I don’t watch the news.
I don’t read the news, I don’t watch it, I’m off Twitter, I cannot tell you who did what where, I have no idea.
It started as an experiment about 8 years ago. I wanted to see if I got smarter or more ignorant if I stopped reading articles and only read books. I wanted to know how it would affect my mental health.
The experiment turned out to be revelatory.
Instead of bothering myself with stories like, “Did you know your refrigerator might be spying on you?!” And losing 3 days of my life to persuading my husband to get rid of all smart devices – I read a 400 page textbook on Narcissism. I finished Lose Your Mother and learned about the Atlantic slave trade in Ghana. I watched a documentary with no narration – just a CGI portrayal of your blood cells warding off a bacteria (did you know bacteria make fake IDs?! That’s how they break into your cell membrane – the bacteria make a key with a code that mimics the code needed to get into your specific cell and breaks in, like an auto thief but FOR CELLS).
I learned more in my year of no articles than in my 4 years of undergrad and 2 years of grad school.
The sad part was: NO ONE NOTICED. No one noticed I didn’t read the article they forwarded me or didn’t participate at dinner when they said, “Can you believe what’s happening with….”
[They also did not notice this.]
Additionally, I had no trouble participating in small talk (or large talk) because, it turns out, almost no one discusses ideas. They discuss the controversy around the idea and the frame it’s packaged in.
Opt-ing out allowed me to see the frame our information is packaged in.
“But how do you get the news!?” people ask me in a distressed, almost panicked voice. They’re concerned I’m now “uninformed.”
I tell people I get the news the same way as they do: I don’t.
What you call news was invented by men like me to sell Nylons.
It is sports, entertainment, and media. (All due respect to those for whom politics is their baseball. You folks are in on the joke because you don’t assume what you’re getting is Pure Fact. You enjoy the game and I can respect that – this is different from people who put themselves on a pedestal for participating in small talk over the latest manufactured political drama, addicted to the outrage).
Most people, when accusing me of ignorance, are judging me for my (lack of) knowledge in three specific categories: politics, current events, and business — specifically, S&P businesses, real estate, oil, gas, and manufacturing – almost no one judges me by how much I know about startups or entrepreneurship.
But here are a few other categories that should interest us if we’re going to call ourselves “worldly” or “well informed:”
The Qing Dynasty
Child pornography epidemic
Food production and systems
Some of these are broad categories and some are more specific, but that we consider all of them “niche” compared to “Current Events” and “Politics” is an effect of framing.
In high school, I took a class called “World History” where we learned about Europe from 1650 to 1945. Not many people know this, but Europe is only part of the world; it is not the world. There are 6 other continents and a few oceans left out of this frame. This is what framing does. They framed the class as world history, then left out the actual world.
The media you consume positions information in a certain way that becomes invisible – that’s what is called “the frame.” When you don’t question the frame and simply accept the information inside the frame you miss a big chunk of the context.
In other words, you’re being brainwashed and manipulated, not becoming more informed.
Opting out was a personal choice that worked for me, you don’t have to do it. But you do need to cultivate awareness of framing. Namely, the frame that the world has gone to shit. Depending on what side of the aisle you sit on, you have different evidence for how and why the world is going to shit. But the frame I’d like to call our attention to is the fatalism.
It should not surprise us that humans are nearsighted, selfish, and obsessed with power over. It’s in every book and movie ever. Tale as old as time.
It is not news and it does not mean the game is over.
The Dark Side is always going to try and win and it will always have more resources, less integrity, and a bullshit code of ethics.
The audacious choice here is to reject the frame that power over is the only one that wins.
Do not take information at face value nor let yourself be used as a pawn to sell advertising (and I love advertising, you know this – I do not love manipulation and I do not endorse lying).
Trust Me I’m Lying came out in 2012. The Age of Propaganda came out in 1992. The Social Animal in 1972. George Lakoff’s work dates back to the 1980s. Nothing I’ve written here is new or even controversial.
But that most of us judge my knowledge of fungi as ignorant of the world, but believe knowing the latest toddler behavior from grown adults is news – is sad.
Fungi are more like organisms than bacteria, they can break down pollutants like oil and toxic waste, they can navigate, survive in space, manipulate animal behavior, and eat rock. They created the biosphere and a social network called the Wood Wide Web that enables PLANTS to communicate through them. I shit you not.
The world is an incredible place.
And we miss it when we expend our energy on framing effects designed to distract and emotionally hijack us. We cannot challenge the frames we inherit and inadvertently endorse until we can see that’s what we’re doing.
To that end, I’ve got a book on fungi to get back to.