The amount of people I meet these days who think the world is going to hell is shocking, or was shocking until I understood why. It’s 2016, I’m in Bangkok, Thailand, and as much nonsense that goes on here, I can live each day baffled by our very existence – the fact we’re alive, that fact that we live with so much opportunity and information, the fact that I can sit on the other side of the world and chat with my mom like she was next to me, the fact that I can earn money on the internet, the fact that I can look up almost anything on demand. It baffles me daily to think about, and I think we’re all lucky to be here.
I meet people regularly throughout the world who who say things like “”I can’t let my kid walk outside alone anymore like I used to” or “Trump might become president, we’re doomed” or “England breaks off EU, this is a sign that we’re all fucked”.
For the last several years I’ve spent much of my time focused on projects that interest me, building things I think are useful to the world, learning as much as I can about as much as I can, talking to people from different cultures, and figuring out life like everyone else is. One of the things I’ve consciously removed almost entirely is the news, and here’s why.
Modern News 2016
I put the year there because who knows what the news and media will be in the future. Modern day media is unlike virtually anything we’ve seen in the past throughout human history. We have a constant stream of events bombarding us 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week. And guess what? They don’t tell us what we should know, what we need to know, or what’s good for us – they tell us what scares us.
You have to understand what drives media in modern day. In the age of limited attention, the media catches our attention by scaring us. Why? Because it’s what gets viewership. The media isn’t driven to do anything more than get viewers, because viewers translate into money – the media is made up of mostly businesses.
The globalization of media means now that when a suicide bombers blows himself up in Baghdad, the world knows about it almost instantly, including people in the middle of no where America. Or when a school shooting happens, it’s all the media covers for days – and it shows up everywhere – on Facebook, our emails, our TVs, radios, our friends. It’s hard to escape, and it truly changes our perspective of the world.
While there are positive things that come out of media, the implications of this constant bombardment driven by the desire to scare us makes everyone think the world is going crazy. But it really isn’t.
Did you know that we live in the safest time in human history? With more wealth, education, and opportunity than the world has ever seen? With less poverty and disease than the world has ever seen? With child mortality rates at the lowest in recorded history? By almost every measure, the world is better today than it was in the past, yet everyone feels like it’s worse than it was before. And the globalized media is to blame.
Violent crime is at an all-time low, international wars are at an all-time low, there have been precipitous drops in domestic violence, steady declines in drunk driving-related deaths, death from infectious diseases and a rock-bottom child mortality rate. You’re more likely to be killed by a piece of furniture than by a terrorist attack.
Our evolutionary psychology has wired us in a few unique ways that contribute to the nature of media and how we look at it. Similarly in how the pain we suffer from a loss of $100 is much greater than the enjoyment of gaining $100, we react more to negative news than to positive, hence why media tends to show us more negative than positive. Scaring us works! This is called the negativity bias, which “refers to the notion that, even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) have a greater effect on one’s psychological state and processes than do neutral or positive things.”
We humans are wired to pay 10x more attention to negative news than positive news.
Being able to rapidly notice and pay attention to negative news (like a predator or a dangerous fire) was an evolutionary advantage to keep you alive on the savannas of Africa millions of years ago.
Today, we still pay more attention to negative news, and the news media knows this. They take advantage of it to drive our eyeballs to their advertisers. Typically, good news networks fail as businesses.
It’s not that the news media is lying — it’s just not a balanced view of what’s going on in the world.
If you watch the news frequently, it feels like the world is becoming more dangerous, more radical, and worse, but the reality is that this isn’t at all the case. In fact it’s the opposite.
The world isn’t going crazy – the media is, and always has been. Shut off your TV, stop reading CNN, and read a book or research something that actually matters to your life and the lives of the people around you. The world could use your attention – it needs more people to proactively make the world better.
Thanks to Mark Manson for the inspiration to write this article. Recommended books on this subject: The Better Angles of Our Nature, The Rational Optimist, and The Progress Paradox.