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My takeaway

News is to your mind what sugar is to your body. Be aware that the press is selling the new and immediate as relevant—this is a fraud, relevance is a highly personal issue. Use these two questions to find out if news is relevant to you, Do you understand the world better now? And do you make better decisions?

My notes

These are my informal notes from Stop Reading the News. It contains a mix of key highlights as well as my own thoughts and lessons.

  • What exactly is the news? This is the most basic definition: ‘information on events from across the world’.
  • Sometimes the media rather grandiosely calls these snippets of information ‘breaking news’ or ‘top world headlines’. This doesn’t change the fact that they’re largely irrelevant to your personal world.
  • That the new is being sold as relevant is a fundamental fraud.
  • News is to the mind what sugar is to the body: appetising, easily digestible and extremely damaging.
  • The first week of radical abstinence will be the worst. Not checking the news takes discipline. In the beginning you’ll be on tenterhooks, expecting at any moment that something terrible will happen in the world.
  • Go for thirty days without the news. Tell yourself, ‘After thirty days I’ll be free to return to my old life. But for those thirty days, I’ll stick it out.’
  • If something truly significant happens, you’ll find out soon enough – from the specialised press, from your friends, your family, or someone you’re chatting to.
  • As soon as a piece of news is in the world, it becomes public knowledge and you will not enjoy an advantage in knowing about it. You will, however, gain a huge advantage over your peers and competitors if firstly you have a deeper awareness of the background context and secondly, if that context is not widely disseminated. And you will only reach this awareness through intensive reading and thought.
  • Neither journalists nor consumers have much sense of what’s relevant. To the media, what’s relevant is anything that grabs attention.
  • You don’t need to know whether one president shook another one’s hand. You don’t need to know whether two trains crashed somewhere in the world. Your brain is already full. The more you cram it with junk, the less room there is for the information you genuinely need to know.
  • When you consistently organise your life around your circle of competence, you’ll realise that ninety-nine per cent of what you read, see and hear in the media is irrelevant to you. Slice it off.
  • The news is incapable of explaining anything. Its brief reports are like tiny, shimmering soap bubbles bursting on the surface of a complex world. News is the opposite of understanding the world. It suggests there are only events – events without context.
  • It’s a serious mistake to think we need to form an opinion about everything.
  • Nearly everything we hear on the news is outside our sphere of influence. So you can safely disregard it.
  • Don’t go to the Sahara to build a water pump with your own two hands. This well-intentioned lunacy is known as volunteer’s folly. You might manage to build one well per day, but if you do a day’s work at your regular job (working within your circle of competence) and send the money you earn to Africa, you can help build a hundred wells a day. That’s of far more use to the world’s poor.
  • If you stop reading the news, you’ll have reclaimed a whole month out of the year.