By Brad Beckstrom
Turn off the Firehose
I really felt I had it all together. I was on a high quality, low information diet. I was limiting my social media use to output and using a feed reader to follow bloggers and writers that I trust.
In early March, I’d been traveling around Prague and Budapest for over a week and had barely looked at the news. The bars, cafés, and sights were bustling for that time of year. The weather was unseasonably warm in both cities.
Then the global pandemic took off. Up to that point I’d heard about Wuhan, the cruise ship, and a few other hotspots, but as we all recall things happened very quickly. I jumped on a plane home and less than a week later Hungary was entirely shut down. The world had changed.
I was hopping on the Apple News app and Twitter almost hourly trying to get updated information. I started to feel the old addictions to news and social media apps coming back. Now 4+ months into the pandemic, I’d become a full-on news and social media junkie.
It started every morning checking the Covid 19 maps on various news apps and then getting sucked into related stories. Throughout the day, whether on eating lunch or having a cup of coffee, I find myself checking a screen. If I go out for a walk, I’ll see people walking around looking at their phones on the trail.
If I ever get to that point please just run me off the trail.
In the US, the election, #BLM, and political news are getting as much attention as the pandemic. I have this feeling that if I ignore what’s going on it will be at my own peril.
In some ways, this is very true. We do need to stay informed and seek out reliable high-quality information. This is where the addiction can begin to kick in. Social media and news seem to feed off of each other and combined they are a powerful elixir. I’ve found that for me the secret is a combination of high-quality apps and a set of things that distract me from those same apps and begin to heal my addiction.
Turn off the fire hose.
When you browse social media, web, and network news sites you’re letting others and algorithms curate the information you receive. These sites and apps are often filled with things you didn’t ask for. On top of that, they drop in a lot of targeted clickbait based on your browsing history. There is a way to avoid this. Try using a newsfeed app like Apple News, or Google News. I use Apple News free version because I can follow specific topics and avoid a lot of clutter and headlines full of urgency. Neither is perfect and still collect information but it’s what we have for now.
Make the news apps work for you
Setting up a news app on your iPhone with the default settings is not a great idea. The best way to set it up is by topic. So, for instance, I follow topics like photography, financial independence, hiking, travel. After you’ve added your interests, play with that for a while and then follow a few niche news sources. I follow MacWorld, Afar, The Baltimore Ravens, The Atlantic, Wired, and other publications that interest me. Finally, pick a few (more than one) trusted news sources. (Make this choice very carefully). I would avoid the big cable news outfits like Fox and CNN as they tend to be fire hoses just by themselves. In fact, I would avoid cable news and affiliated websites altogether.
Look for news sources that focus more on news and less on opinion and entertainment. Two examples would be Reuters and the Associated Press/AP. If you subscribe to a local paper’s website you can follow that in the news app as well. Just two of these should be more than enough. If you have a decent local paper, it’s a good idea to support it.
Turn off notifications
This is the most common recommendation but I’m not sure how many people actually get around to doing it. It’s is one of the very best things you can do to slow the flow from the social media and news fire hose. Just go to your phone settings and turn off notifications ESPECIALLY for Twitter and Facebook. Once those pop-up notifications and banners go away, you’ll be surprised at how much less you are tempted to check social media. Also, get rid of the little red (new content alerts) Don’t worry everybody’s posts will still be there when you go back to it.
Get control of your email
I used to get a lot of unwanted news via email. Did you know there’s a free app that can help you clean up your email and unsubscribe from email lists you didn’t even know you signed up for? It’s called Unroll.me. You can set it up quickly and it will scan all of your email subscriptions and allow you to unsubscribe or simply add them to your rollup. You’ll be amazed at how many of these email lists you didn’t sign up for.
I’ve found that many email subscription plans don’t necessarily unsubscribe you when you ask to be unsubscribed. Imagine that! So now I just add all of these to my rollup and they don’t show up in my inbox other than a summary that I can scan once a week or once a month. Generally, I found I don’t miss any of them but if there’s an important one I can go back to the unroll.me account and add it back into my inbox.
Use a Feed reader like Feedly.
I’ve noticed that a lot of people follow bloggers, reporters, pundits, and organizations using Twitter or Facebook. I think that using a feed reader (sometimes called RSS ) is the best way to follow content creators that you trust. The reason is you can see a nice summary or preview of the article before you waste time clicking and visiting another website. Most of the feeds can be read directly in the reader or in the reader’s built-in browser. Twitter shout outs and Facebook posts can be clickbait, because the algorithm likes to sneak in some paid content and lots of things your crazy friends like.
Take your recovery slow
Try doing a no social media Tuesday. Trust me, it’s not that easy. Yesterday was Tuesday and social media owned me because of some crazy stuff going on. These days there’s crazy stuff going on everyday, just pick Tuesday to skip it all. Then maybe add a second day and go from there.
I’ve been doing everything I can to break away from the screen. I’ve picked up a few monster-sized hardcover novels like (Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections) and some old art and photography magazines from the 90s ( Double Take). I’ve been finding that the pandemic and our current political environment has made me very nostalgic. I’ve been trying to focus on some old books, music, and art.
Does any of this even matter?
I know that there are many out there who don’t trust anyone, especially the media. But going dark to news and staying in the social media feedback loop has gotten dangerous with everything that’s going on. It is more important now to really take some time to seek out high-quality news sources that you trust. Ideally, you can find some different points of view for instance following news feeds from the BBC or a local paper. Just make sure you don’t confuse news with entertainment or opinions.
Maybe save those for your social media feeds.
READ, THINK, VOTE