News needn’t keep us trapped in the cave. But staying away from news shouldn’t mean holing up in a literal cave, away from any media influence. There’s a balance we can strive to achieve. It’s true that finding nuggets of real gold amidst the trash heap of modern news media will take some work. But I believe, in the long run, that we can be all the better for it.
I’m not sure why this piece exists. I’m not sure who it’s trying to convince, or what it’s trying to convince them of. All it does is restate the basic problem — it’s difficult to consume a healthy, balanced media diet — without offering anything but platitudes to resolve it. The unanswered question remains: as an individual with very limited time, energy, money, and power, where is it reasonable to draw the line with regards to being an informed citizen? What am I going to do with that knowledge? Which media deserve my attention and why?
As Alain de Botton once noted, technology has made the phenomenon of news increasingly strange. Ordinary folks have constant, immediate access to information which they are powerless to act upon, which changes absolutely nothing about their lives, but about which they are expected to express meaningful opinions. Perhaps it’s just an evolved social grooming ritual, a way of reassuring each other that we hold certain experiences and emotions in common in a frightening world. Or perhaps it has become an upper-middle-class pursuit for status, a way for us to pretend that we’re much more significant than we are, a strange conceit whereby we pretend that we need to be informed in the event that a policymaker happens to call us and ask for our tie-breaking opinion. But as Eric Hoffer sardonically quipped, nobodies who yearn to be somebodies usually end up as busybodies, and God knows we don’t need any more of those.
In recent years, I came to the humbling realization that while I knew how to “pass” as well-informed (and opinionated), I really wasn’t. When I stopped trying to keep up and participate in the chirm of online media, I was forced to admit that my knowledge of most topics was superficial at best. As a clever Folk Implosion lyric puts it, “When I said I understood, I only knew where to stand.” Most importantly, I realized that I had much better things to do with my time than accumulate factoids for no better reason than to bolster some vague self-image. Like Candide, I realized that tending to one’s own garden is a perfectly good way to spend one’s time on Earth. It’s especially strange that I should have to write a defense of the wisdom of voluntary limits in response to a conservative writer in a conservative magazine.