All posts tagged news

Avoid News

Avoid News is a good rant against paying attention to the storytellers that typically get labeled as news reporters:

Information is no longer a scarce commodity. But attention is. Why give it away so easily? You are not that irresponsible with your money, your reputation or your health. Why give away your mind?

I don’t know a single truly creative mind who is a news junkie – not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter. On the other hand, I know a whole bunch of viciously uncreative minds who consume news like drugs.

Bryan Caplan says:

P.S. When I read this passage, the counter-example of Tyler Cowen came immediately to mind.

I don’t consider that much of a counter-example. I found Tyler Cowen’s blog to be a dangerous addiction, and I’m glad I quit. I have a strong impression that he could be much more creative than he is, but has made a deliberate choice to pursue fame at the expense of creativity.

In order to maintain the pretense that news focuses on important information, storytellers focus on events that make us unhappy (avoiding or fixing mistakes are more important than understanding what routinely goes right, which makes it hard to focus on good news). [This also applies to other sources of political information, but that means I want the most concise source, which is not likely to be a rapidly published source.]

I’m not willing to completely follow the advice to kick my news addiction, since I’m somewhat dependent on social connections with people who imagine that news media provide valuable information. But I can mostly learn enough by watching The Daily Show, which often (but hardly consistently) is careful to indicate that they focus on frivolous, entertaining stories that give low priority to educational value. I’m definitely better off with that than I was when I was addicted to serious-sounding daily news sources.

I have a system for reading financial news that minimizes the problems with news. It involves mostly reading numbers that I find via stock symbols. Most of those numbers have been checked by accountants, who have strict rules to minimize biases. I’m fairly careful to select which symbols I follow by analyzing numbers, not stories.

For more evidence that news harms you, see an experiment done by Andreassen where subjects trading stocks did worse if they saw a constant stream of news than if they saw no news once they started trading.

Also, Robin Hanson’s analysis of how the press handled one story suggests a pretty clear positive correlation between the time a source takes to convey a story and the accuracy of that story.

[I’ve been neglecting this blog recently due to an obsession with finding waterfalls; that will change any week now when rainfall tapers off.]