Need guidance on sticking to a serious news and social media diet
November 9, 2016 3:09 PM   Subscribe

Another question inspired by recent events: I need a major break from the bad news, negativity, doom and gloom projections, etc. How do I stick to a life diet that doesn't include the the 24-hour news cycle and social media?

I'm deleting Facebook (as soon as I figure out how to untangle a few of my other accounts from it) and I want to pretty much). I have a browser extension that I can have bounce me to more positive, feel-good websites (e.g. r/awww) when I absentmindedly wander to the garbage sites I am trying to avoid (think celebrity gossip and local news). I am thinking I should (at least temporarily) eschew my gory go-to true crime podcasts in favor of just listening to regular ol' music (preferably shiny happy stuff).

The thing is, I've tried this stuff before and, like so often happens with "diets", fall back into my regular bad habits after a few days. But I feel truly burned-out at this point and feel like a major fast of all this crap is essential to maintaining decent mental health. So at the risk of being chat-filter, I guess I am seeking:

1. Additional ways I can reduce my internet use/media consumption and channel my time and energy into more productive things (or at least activities that are more conducive to maintaining a little inner peace).

2. General tips for remaining disciplined in my abstinence.

Apologies if this is a little scattered, and thank you in advance.
posted by lovableiago to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
#1 - You can use something like Leechblock. It's an extension that you install into your browser and you set specified times that you want to be offline, or number of hours per day... there are a few different ways to do this.

One thing that helps me with this is getting together with like-minded people who also like to do X. It keeps me away from the computer/smartphone and gets me motivated to continue to do X during the weeks we don't get together.

#2 - Do you use an automated to-do list? You can add this as a "to-do" item and set it to repeat every day, or once a week, or whatever.

Or you can simply block out some time for it on your calendar. This helps me - if I think of it as a to-do rather than something I'd like to do, it's more likely to happen. Putting it on a calendar somehow legitimizes it, if that makes sense?

You can also "attach" it to something you do every day. If there's show you like, you can do X after you watch the show.
posted by onecircleaday at 3:27 PM on November 9, 2016

I'm a big fan of editing the hostsfile, which lets you block websites at the system level. You can google for Windows or Mac instructions pretty easily. You can undo it, but in practice it's just enough extra effort to be a deterrent.

Also, blocking at the hostsfile level works in conjunction with any other system or habit you set up. E.g., you can get in the habit of getting all your news from the BBC once a week, but if you get weak and open HuffPo while at work, it will just be a blank page and you won't break your habit.
posted by michaelh at 3:40 PM on November 9, 2016

Best answer: Get your news from dead-tree newspapers, or magazines that do long form analysis. (you can use the digital copies of the magazines, you just want to stay away from anything that's trying to keep up with the 24hr news cycle).

Some good mags: NY times Magazine, the Atlantic, the Economist, the New York writer, Mother Jones...

Basically, you want to make a habit of reading things that people have thought through and done research on, which takes a bit of time. Get in the habit of checking in with your 'smart' sources every Sunday morning or something, and you may be able to resist the urge to stay on top of the pulse all the time.

Read more books, especially history and non-fiction in general. Replace true-crime podcasts with Hardcore History.
posted by sparklemotion at 3:40 PM on November 9, 2016

Other than the weather, you can probably pretty safely ignore anything called "news" for quite a long time with no serious impact on your life. Long form stuff isn't necessarily better in terms of attitude.

I am not a fan of happy, shiny music. If you are a true crime type and listening to happy, shiny music is your idea of how to stop that, it is no wonder you fail.

Instead, try to seek out reality-based stories that involve overcoming something hard. I liked the book "Reading Lolita in Tehran" and I liked the movie "Beyond Rangoon."

Whatever your personal interests, look for new research related to it. Read up on space exploration developments. Read any news you want on space exploration. Some of the photos are amazing.

Read actual history. Keep an eye out for how things get spun.

The News is terrible about only being about bad news. I have said this over and over and over on various websites: When the Iraqis lit the oil wells on their way out of Kuwait, it was predicted that they would burn for years and be a global environmental crisis. When cracked teams converged from around the world, developed new techniques on the spot and wrapped things up in about six months, it was barely mentioned as a footnote in stories with more human drama. When all the water and soot from this drama caused the desert to bloom like no one had seen in at least two decades, this was also only mentioned in passing in stories with more drama.

When Y2K was predicted, people prepped for the end of the world. When it came and went with little more consequences than losing the ability to preprogram your VCR, it was a big yawn. We do not continue to get up in 2016 and daily exclaim "Thank god they fixed that I am not living in the y2k post apocalypse!!"

People are incredibly bad about taking good news for granted and running screaming across the stage with arms flailing like Kermit the frog when there is bad news.

If you have any health issues, read up on current cutting edge research. Volunteer at a seniors thing of some sort and listen to their stories about how hard getting anything done used to be. Stop and "count your blessings" -- ie list the things that are going right in your life, not just the ones going wrong.

Go through some of my FPPs. I have relatively recently posted things on the blue about how they are eradicating certain diseases in large areas of the world and other types of good news. These things generally get few favorites and generate little discussion. Almost no one is interested in good news, but it does exist. If you want to find it, you can.

Turn off the TV. Cull your twitter feed of people who post depressing, gossipy things. I spend time on twitter and I don't find it to be a problem, though I have a very long standing policy of eschewing so-called "News" because it is always something negative. Spend more time on AskMe than on the blue. Most people just kvetch on the blue. In contrast, they problem solve on the green.

posted by Michele in California at 3:58 PM on November 9, 2016 [17 favorites]

I will add that I do not use facebook and should probably redelete my account, but haven't been able to be arsed to deal with it. But I like Twitter. You decide who to follow on Twitter and you can find positive stuff there.

Not all social media is created equal.

posted by Michele in California at 4:02 PM on November 9, 2016

To piggyback a bit on your question, I'm interested in finding an app that time-blocks other apps on iOS. Some site told me that wasn't possible, but it was only a forum answer.

If phone/tablet is a habit of yours, I recommend deleting the news app so that it doesn't drop bullshit into your eyeballs when you're just trying to search for something. Forest for iOS gamifies you not looking at the phone, which I like, but it also means you can't use any app on it, even for work.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:50 PM on November 9, 2016

Best answer: I think it's pretty natural to want to seek out new relevant information -- curiosity is a pretty basic human drive. For some people it might be stronger than in others. We use a lot of mental shortcuts to figure out what is relevant. In some sense garbage online news media is just a giant experiment to figure out the best ways to arrange letters to trick our brains into thinking they matter.

I feel like I've faced the same challenge and succeeded to an extent. The biggest thing was just exposing myself to actual quality writing and thinking, regularly. Your brain learns to tell the difference pretty quick.

Longer-form magazines can be good, but in recent years even the New Yorker has started optimizing for clickbait and "shareability", at least online. I strongly agree with recommendations to read books, and history and nonfiction in particular. I've been doing this and it's worked for me.

Other thoughts: commit to journaling short responses (even just a few sentences) about the stuff you read each day. It's enjoyable in itself, and it will motivate you to avoid boring content-free garbage news, and also will help you stay conscious/mindful when reading stuff, rather than getting sucked into the attention vortex.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:01 PM on November 9, 2016

Best answer: In one of my favourite recent reads, Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, the main character's sister says to him: “So, what if, instead of thinking about solving you whole life, you just think about adding additional good things. One at a time. Just let your pile of good things grow.” I think that's excellent advice.

I don't think diets work in the long-term, whether it be food-based or any other kind of diet. I think filling your time with more things that are interesting is a better bet than telling yourself you won't go to certain websites and just sitting there twiddling your thumbs and trying to look at cute puppy photos. Cute pictures are all very well, but you're obviously a thoughtful and curious sort, so try to find other topics that satisfy your curiosity.

If you like true crime, why don't you pick up some absorbing murder mystery novels? I've been tearing through Minette Walters in an attempt to keep myself from frantically refreshing the Metafilter, Facebook and the Guardian websites. (I mean, I'm here right now, so it doesn't work 100% of the time, but it does work!) OK so the literary merit of such fiction may be questionable but it doesn't create the same kind of panic that keeping up with the 24 hour news cycle does. Murder mysteries strangely enough can be very soothing because you get to the bottom of things at the end of the novel, something which you can't always say for real life.

I also really think now is a good time to take up whatever hobby you've been considering for ages and putting off. Doesn't matter how good you are at it, just that it absorbs you. I'm a horrible artist, but painting a still life takes up a lot of time and concentration and it tires you out. I always finish a painting feeling mildly frustrated with myself (because I am so bad) but aware that I haven't been thinking about the usual things that stress me out for the past few hours.
posted by Ziggy500 at 1:10 AM on November 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

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