April 12th, 2020
Die Kunst des digitalen Lebens (Rolf Dobelli, 2019) The Art of the Digital Life
In this concise, easily digestable book Dobelli argues that news are irrelevant, and their consumption harmful. For him, news are characterized as being short, superficial and event-based (lacking context) pieces of information. They are written by journalists who are in general not experts in any domain. By his definition, news are not books or articles, for example in scientific magazines, written by experts and focusing on a systemic and contextual perspective.
He himself used to read newspapers religiously but realized they were not only not adding any qualities to his life, but rather distracted him from doing relevant things and having clear thoughts. He decided to get rid of news consumption entirely.
In 35 chapters, each having the length of a short blog post, he claims that news
- distract from developing competencies
- exaggerate negativity and confirm biases
- trigger unnecessary opinions
- waste about one month of your time per year
- rewire our brain and inhibit critical thinking
- are easy to fake and manipulate us
- produce fake fame and make us feel insignificant
- make us passive and kill creativity
- produce the illusion of compassion
- foster terrorism
- destroy our peace of mind
I really liked how quickly Dobelli makes his point in each chapter, the book really flows and is a pleasure to read. Sometimes his examples and argumentation are a bit one-dimensional and his style a little complacent, but in essence he makes a compelling argument against news and their consumption.
News in times of the pandemic
Especially during the current pandemic the arguments resonate very much with me. I learned much more about the situation from scientists, like Christian Drosten, Robert Rohde or Katherine Hayhoe than from traditional news media. Even more respectable newspapers like Die Zeit or FAZ have put me off by the focus on responses by and opinions of individuals, or absolute numbers of casualties, rather than the system producing them. I felt that the beginning of the pandemic in Germany was downplayed by the media - and suddenly they shifted to unendurable, panicky exaggeration - only to recede to underestimation again.
An interesting term I learned in context of the US American media response is gaslighting, a phenomenon which I fear is on the rise and will definitely dominate german media in the coming months as well.
What I also loved was Dobelli applying Sturgeon's law to news production. Basically, Sturgeon's law says that
Ninety percent of everything is crap
So don't feel out of place if most news out there makes you sick to your stomach. It's not your fault, it's Sturgeon's law. Accept it, avoid news, and move on.
I'm not sure if my life will change after reading this book. My current habits include browsing a few selected news sites daily (Die Zeit or FAZ), some occasionally (Guardian or NZZ). Most of my input comes from a carefully curated Twitter feed, which seems to be an effective counter-balance. In the past I have successfully stopped following professional football which was quite a refreshening experience. I'm already thinking about a follow-up experiment, like stopping to read online news, and instead listening to a single weekly podcast, for example Deutschlandfunk's Politikpodcast.
How do you deal with news during the pandemic? Let's discuss on Twitter.