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The Story of Our Addiction to News

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In the old days

For millennia news traveled by word of mouth. News mostly dealt with immediate and local affairs. Traders spread the news from further away as they traveled to conduct business. It was only the most powerful who could spread their messages as news or propaganda to a broader group of people. Examples include:

  • Emperor Ashoka the Great (268 BCE to 232 BCE) had his messages inscribed onto rock and pillars and placed in over 30 locations around his empire. 
  • In the Roman Empire, the central government built and maintained a network of roads over which their tax collectors, armies, and spies communicated news back to the Emperor in Rome. Julius Caesar (100 BCE to 40 BCE) began having messages in the form of news put up in public places in Rome. 
  • In China, the Han dynasty had a carefully laid out surveillance network, and information and news was circulated amongst bureaucrats and court officials.

In all these cases, the ordinary people were only given a distillation of what the Emperor or those in power wanted them to know. For the most part, common people went about their daily lives without any concern for the news.

The printing press and the first news papers

While paper was invented in China, it was Johannes Gutenberg who invented the first mechanized printing press in 1439. This revolutionary technology opened the gates for the gradual democratization of news. Not only could the news be printed in large copies, but the newspaper could be sent to larger areas of a country. When people learned to read, they could consume the news themselves and did not have to have this said allowed to them.

The first newspaper is said to have been the German “Relation aller Fürnemmen und gedenckwürdigen Historien” (Collection of all Distinguished and Commemorable News) published by Johann Carolus in Strasbourg in 1605.

The globalization of news and forming of a habit

Gradually the printing of newspapers became familiar all over the world. No longer were people interested in just their local affairs, but the goings and comings of people thousands of miles away and even on different continents became of global concern to everyone.

News organizations began to get powerful. These organizations were the repository of news. People relied on them to give accurate information. However, the news was and is always provided through a tinted glass.

Together with the news, advertisements brought in revenues for these news organizations. Newspapers began to be marketed, just like any other product. The result was that like the drinking of tea and coffee, the reading of a newspaper became an essential morning habit.

Radio, Television, Cable, and Satelite

With the invention of the radio (first radio station in 1920), then the television (first television station 1928), and finally cable and satellite channels (first 24-hour global news channel in 1980), the news began to reach out to a global audience simultaneously. 24-hour news channels brought images of wars and conflicts from far away places directly into our living rooms. We gained a new habit—newspapers in the morning and TV news in the evening.

The Internet revolution and a cacophony of “news”

In 1990, the great computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented and gave the world free the World Wide Web. With faster communications technologies, access to the Internet became easier and easier. Soon the ability to post one’s views on blogs or via emails and now via smartphones to reach anyone all over the planet became as easy as talking to your next-door neighbor.

The challenge now is to determine what is accurate and what is not. Of course, in the past, we took on trust what a news organization published or showed on TV – and often, it may not have been correct. But we had two, three, or maybe four sources of news. Now we have thousands of sources for information. In the past, misinformation was limited to that created by a few organizations. Now there are a plethora of choices for the misinformation!

How to tackle this addiction to news

So we have changed from no news in the ancient days, to our morning newspaper, to an additional evening TV news to our present all the time news on the Internet. We are well and truly addicted. If you are not doing anything much, just look at your smartphone and click on a social media app or a news source, and get entertained by what goes for news. It is difficult to imaging a day or even a few hours away from the news.

The philosopher-writer Rolf Dobelli has written a sage book, “Stop Reading the News – A Manifesto For a Happier, Calmer and Wiser Life.” Dobelli suggests that this constant viewing of news is harmful to our sanity and detracts from creative and happy work that we might otherwise accomplish. Instead of looking at the news daily, Dobelli suggests that we read through a few serious news and analysis sources once a week. We can then stay informed, take decisions when required but otherwise get free from a most harmful addiction.

Dear Reader, it is when you try Dobelli’s suggestion that you realize the extent of your addiction to news. I have tried, and it took many months to get free from this disease. If you succeed, the benefits are huge – Less unnecessary worry, more excellent creative and efficient work done, and a happy outlook.

Will you will try this – only once a week news – strategy?

© Kaikhushru Taraporevala

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