I just finished an interesting experiment. Based on Tim Ferris' concept of a low-information diet, I did not look at any news media for an entire week. No TV news, no radio, no newspapers, no internet news, no magazines, no current affairs blogs, no digg. Complete current affairs blackout. I couldn't even listen to my beloved Fresh Air on the way to work. Only non-fiction books and TV for the week.
Most of you know I'm an information fiend. I crave news and information. I need to know what's going on. I wake up in the morning and throw on the news, check the web for what happened in the 6 hours I was asleep, I read the newspaper cover to cover. I check the news sites throughout the day, I'm a digg addict and I have news ticker widgets on my desktop. I think it goes without saying that this was not going to be easy for me. So before I get into the results, let me explain why I did this. Well it was a couple of reasons. First and foremost, to see if I could. Secondly, it was an experiment to see what would happen to my life if I reduced the noise level dramatically. Would it reduce my stress? Would I sleep even better than I do now? Would I be able to concentrate better? Would I be able to cope not knowing what was going on? Would this sensory deprivation turn me into a social retard, unable to start or participate in conversations because I didn't know what was going on? Did I *need* to know everything that was going on? I was looking forward to finding out. But also scared shitless.
Well, I'm still alive so I deem the experiment a success. The first thing I should say is that it wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be. By reducing my information input from a fire hose to a squirt gun, I immediately found myself more relaxed and much more focused. By forbidding myself to check the BBC website every half an hour, browse digg, read the ticker, watch TV etc I found my productivity went through the roof. I had dramatically reduced my distractions and could stay on task without a bunch of background noise.
The second thing I noticed is that I *was* able to keep up to date with what was going on. No, I didn't cheat. But I managed to glean hours and hours of information and opinion in just a few seconds. I glanced at headlines as I walked past newsagents, I peeked over shoulders on the Tube to get a 3 second look at an article in Metro. I got everything I needed to know in a matter of seconds and moved on. Simple.
I also managed to get my editorial and opinion information as well. This was even easier AND it actually HELPED start conversations instead of the opposite. I just asked people at work or friends "Hey, what happened in the world today, I didn't get a chance to catch the news?" In less than a minute I'd have a world news digest AND 4 people's perspectives and opinions on the topics. Done. Simple.
I even got the results of two major primary elections without looking them up or asking anyone. My mom sent me a text message, assuming I saw the results, saying "What a bummer about Ohio and Texas! Think he can bounce back?" From that I knew that Hilary Clinton had won both states and that my mom was disappointed. I got my fact and my editorial in a 12 word digest.
I also felt less pissed off at the world. I never had an opportunity or need to go "Goddamn Fox News!! They make me so mad!" because I didn't let them get to me. No pundit on a news opinion show could rile me up with his or her viewpoint because I didn't hear it. I didn't need to hear it in the first place.
So no, I didn't feel out of touch or uninformed. In fact I felt more informed because I was given several layers of perspective to each piece of information I got and could then make up my own mind (or chose to discard the info) based on who told me what.
Since I finished this total immersion, I've slowly been allowing streams back into my life but only in a highly managed way. Still don't watch the news, still don't check the news sites more than once. I read the digg RSS feed once in a while but more because it always produces more funny and entertaining stories than hard hitting journalism. Plus it provides everything in short, digestible sound bites. I don't feel the need to click through.
We live in a total information age and I have been standing in front of the floodgates for a long time now. It was nice to step out of the deluge and take shelter for a little while.