Goal #29 on my 30 Before 30 List wast to go a month without news, social media, YouTube, and Netflix. The purpose of this goal was to eliminate distractions and to focus on behaviors that are more fulfilling. I knew this goal would be difficult because all of those distracting activities have become ingrained habits. Downtime in the day? Check Google News. Feeling anxiety with work? There’s an hour of YouTube videos to ease that discomfort!
You Need To Be Well Informed
At what point does information become entertainment? I grew up being told that it’s my civic duty to be a well informed citizen, but well informed about what? When is the news not worthy of my attention?
I’d argue that news is worthwhile if I’ll take present or future action with information received. I’d estimate upwards of 95% of the news I consume is not actionable, it’s entertainment. Should I tune in to around the clock coverage of some boys trapped in a cave half way around the world? Of course not, but I did. It was the perfect kind of news: drama filled! My caveman brain loves that shit. Are the lives of 12 Thai boys important? Of course, but I wasn’t going to do anything to save them.
I want to make informed decisions based on trends, aggregates, and long term studies, not daily anecdotes.
It’s Meant To Be Addictive
Prior to this month of abstaining, I would spend several hours each day perusing the News, Social Media, Netflix, and YouTube, even when I had more important things to do. Why?
The brightest computer scientists in Silicon Valley spend hundreds of thousands of hours to make these platforms as addictive as possible. The more I consume, the more ads they can show, and the more money they make. The stories that get the clicks bring in the money. Outrage sells. Manufactured conflict and drama are all crack cocaine to my pathetic brain.
I should have mentioned in my previous ‘Wake Up Before 4:30 AM‘ post that I pursued that goal simultaneously with this one, making it difficult to tease out cause and effect. The overall results were very promising as it was a productive and invigorating month. I accomplished five of my thirty goals in addition to posting two Lethal Engineering videos, publishing three blog posts, and completing a record number of ‘units’ of work.
It was a very quiet month, as if the volume was turned down on the outside world. Everyday became similar to the one before and the one after. There was no drama in my day. Anxiety of the world coming to an end evaporated. It was kind of boring, but extremely relaxing at the same time.
The extra free time allowed me to focus on the items that affect me and that I can have an effect on. I spent an increased amount of time on activities that I find gratifying including writing on this blog, creating Lethal Engineering projects and videos, exercising, and reading. All those activities are more difficult than watching television or scrolling social media, but are undertakings that I know bring greater happiness.
I didn’t perfectly abstain from the distractions. There was a 95% reduction, giving in to watch Netflix with my wife on a couple occasions.
What Did I Miss?
Nothing. There was not a single piece of news that I wish I hadn’t missed.
I visited my parents shortly after wrapping up this goal and watched the nightly news with my dad. My goodness! What an entertaining 30 minutes! I felt fear, happiness, and sadness, all sandwiched between five expertly placed commercial breaks.
It is so easy to slip back into the old habits and that’s exactly what I did in the weeks following the completion of this goal. The contrast between the months of abstaining and consuming has been stark. This is a goal that I need to implement long term.