The News Illusion

By | November 23, 2016

In real life, I’m a news junkie. Politics and current events and international happenings fascinate me. I like the idea that I’m informed about the world and can talk intelligently about whatever you bring up.

At least I used to.

Operation Finally Write Your Stupid Book and Cross Off that Bucket List Item

In August, a publisher knocked and encouraged me to write a book. Oh, hello Universe. Sure, I’ll work on that bucket list item now. I could use a new project.

So, for the past couple of months, I’ve floated, ensconced in my little life bubble. I’m writing a book. I walk 10,000 steps a day. And…that’s basically it. Emails lay unanswered. My blog whimpers, neglected. I ignore texts and phone calls. Social interactions are basically nonexistent. Well, it’s like once a week at most.

I’m a goal-orientated geek. You know this. When I’m in the middle of a goal, a really good goal that excites me, it takes over everything else. This fanaticism asserted itself a thousand-fold for this project. Have you heard of the concept of “flow?”

Geneva

Geneva

According to Wikipedia, flow is “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”

It’s being completely engrossed in what you’re doing. I’ve never quite fully understood what that meant until now.

With all this flow and chi hugging me, I took a hiatus from reading anything online that wasn’t related to my book. It wasn’t even a conscious decision. The last time I checked in on the U.S. election, I took great comfort in the tea leaves. The poll-readers assured me that a candidate who was not thoughtful and not articulate would not be able to fool the majority of the voting electorate. I hunkered into my bubble and my whole world became my book. Humming happily the whole way.

I know the extent of the current single-mindedness is a bit unhealthy, but, on the bright side, it does seem to be preventing me from going insane.

Stop reading the news lest I go insane

The day after the election, I peeked outside and carnage greeted me.

This is my stunned pose.

This is my stunned pose.

Uh, what? Not only did the political party that doesn’t believe in science win the executive branch, but also the legislative branch of government. They now have the power to appoint and shape the judiciary branch. That’s all three branches!

I fell into a pretty deep depression after learning this new fact of life. One of the basic tenets of my life philosophy, how I manage Precious, how I fearlessly wander, is my belief that most people are mostly good. The world is getting better. Progress. Onwards and upwards. Civilization will continue and mankind will figure out the extinction-type stuff before we go extinct.

Now I’m not so sure. I’m worried about climate change, women’s health and autonomy, my health insurance in particular, poor people, the economy and, perhaps most of all, the new standard of what is acceptable behavior. A man who mocked a person with disabilities in front of a crowd, who bragged about sexually assaulting women, who seems incapable of making a logical argument is now the leader of the most powerful country on earth.

For the first time, I am beginning to question the soundness of my VTSAX. Everything feels dangerous and precarious. I don’t feel safe from the future. Perhaps this is the unpredictable black swan event that upends Civilization.

I really hope that I can read this post again in a few years and laugh at my hyperbole.

But, in the meantime, I’m taking a coward’s way out. I’m going to continue my news hiatus indefinitely. I read two books this week that I’m seizing on. The first, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, convinced me that the internet is primarily an “environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.” We lose the deep thinking, the flow, because we spend too much time flitting from one click to the next on the web.

Yeah, I do do that.

frog

Frog

The other book, The Art of Thinking Clearly has a lot of wonderful dabs in it, but the last chapter is my favorite. The author agreed that I should stop reading the news. He has avoided the news for a few years and reports clearer thoughts, more valuable insight and better decisions.

Since we react more to the magnitude of an event than its probability, we don’t really understand the threats we face. That’s the news illusion. We’re afraid of plane crashes, but shrug off car crashes. Terrorist attacks keep us up at night, but heart disease doesn’t even penetrate our dreams. We worry about things that have a low probability of happening to us.

People design websites, even news websites, to make you click on things because clicks equal eyeballs equals money. Your brain responds to “scandalous, shocking, people-based, loud, fast-changing details.” So that’s what the news delivers. It’s probably not relevant to your life, but it’s interesting, right?

Most of the stuff I read online is useless to my daily life, time-consuming and really bums me out. My day-to-day activities don’t change when I peruse the vast majority of the items I read, but my attitude does, my sense of the universe does.

I’m not entirely convinced that my answer is the right answer. I first stumbled upon this idea years ago and promptly dismissed it. Bad things happen because good people do nothing. I must stay informed!

But whenever I think about the current state of affairs, I feel so bloody sad. I feel panic and shame. This is what the great United States has done in 2016? This is the world we’ve made for ourselves?

Another morsel from The Art of Thinking Clearly that spurred this decision:

“Mankind has always survived, so we will be able to tackle any future challenges, too.” Sounds good in theory, but what we fail to realize is that such a statement can only come from a species that has lasted until now. To assume that our existence to date is an indication of our future survival is a serious flaw in reasoning. Probably the most serious of all.

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

I am. I most certainly am.

45 thoughts on “The News Illusion

  1. Katsiki

    I love that you end with a reference to Ozymandias!

    Well thought out. Regardless of the party in power, the US will be fine. The right freaked out when Obama was elected. The left is now freaking out. It will be OKAY. 🙂

    Reply
  2. Michael Crosby

    Welcome to being part of the Loony Left. Keep drinking the kool-aid. But if you do quit watching the MSM, you’ll do fine. Give it time to wash all the gaslighting away.

    Reply
  3. Andy

    I’m completely with you on this ThriftyGal. I love my lazy mornings before work. I wake up at 7 every weekday and drink coffee while reading Google news for over an hour. When I’m bored I read the news. I’m a news addict. The election occurred while my brother and I were visiting Tokyo. We’d both voted early. We watched the election results on the internet in the middle of the day while sitting in our hostel. We were both shocked and dismayed.

    I think unplugging from useless hyperbole is best for me too. Thanks for the book recommendations =)

    Reply
  4. stylinformation

    I wondered if you would comment about the elections. I feel just like you Thriftygal! I am so sad… I don’t know what the world is coming to. For a week after the elections I had sleepless nights. I have always felt concerned about women’s rights and climate change issues. After this election, that concern has turned into a deep anxiety.

    One only has to read about the American university scandals around rape culture, black lives matter issues, crimes against the LGBT community, unequal pay etc to realize human rights violations happen in the US in 2016 – this is unbelievable! There is intolerance for minorities, racism and sexism everywhere, but this election has truly shocked me at how deeply and extensively it runs in the US.

    A few years ago I stopped reading the news because it was just so depressing. But I felt I needed to be informed so after a year’s hiatus I was back to being in the know. Now I am afraid to read the news and to not read it! Sadly I am not very hopeful, but it is important to speak up and make our voices heard. In the meantime, I escape by watching reruns of 3rd Rock from the Sun!

    Reply
  5. Ashala

    You eloquently put words to my feelings. I am in mourning and working through all the stages of grief. Got past the shock. Still in sad stage. We witnessed the death of all that made this country great – inclusiveness, integrity, honor, honesty. Everything we stood for has been ripped to shreds. Very sad day for America and our planet. I cannot comprehend how anyone could possibly vote for him. God help us.

    Reply
    1. Vince

      For some of us ( at least me) it boiled down to the Supreme Court. I look at the scientific evidence (as supported by embryology) as to when life begins, when we receive our unique DNA and it is long before the birth of a baby. That is a unique human being in the mother’s womb. I could not in good conscience vote for someone who would be appointing justices who are hell bent on denying the right to life of the unborn human beings.

      Reply
  6. Mary

    Are you worried enough about VTSAX to get out? I just recently put some of my savings into VTSAX and it has already grown more than it would have in countless years in my savings account, but I’m worried too. I’ve also been thinking about putting some money into a Vanguard bond fund. Any thoughts? I’m a late arrival to the early retirement plan, but I still think (or thought, pre-election) that I might be able to semi-retire in 5-6 years. Now I’m afraid I could end up working past the first time I would be allowed to retire “officially” from my current job.

    Reply
  7. Peggy

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. There are many that share your perspective. You aren’t alone.

    Reply
  8. Joel S

    If you read Republican media you become convinced about how bad Clinton is.
    If you read Democrat media you become convinced about how bad Trump is.

    Both can be wrong and we’ll be fine.
    Both can be right and we’d been doomed anyway.
    Half the population is right and the other half is wrong.

    There is no particular reason to assume my convictions are correct, the other side is just as convinced. I’m hoping I’m wrong and get to eat my words in 4 years. But worst case scenario I get to say “I told you so” and that is quite funny too.

    Reply
  9. Simon Kenton

    It was a rarity: a classical election. Both candidates were so repellent personally that you could vote based entirely on (announced) policies. Both candidates were so repellent personally that there was no reason to throw away long friendships over either of them. To be granted an election where your decision can be based on policy is a blessing.

    In the matter of climate change, take a lesson from Tennyson, who read science 4 hours every day. You could profitably read some geology in the intervals between writing and walking. (The walking is a lesson from Wordsworth, but you have already learned that.)

    Reply
  10. Dan Sherman

    I love and appreciate many of your perspectives in life and money. Big fan here. So how could someone so in your corner on so many things, have supported the orange guy?

    First, I’ll try to be gentle in my words because I know you and so many others on the left are hurting and don’t want to hear the other side, for the most part. And of course, it goes without saying that this is my personal opinion. But I suspect I speak for many Trump voters this election cycle. BTW: I knew Trump would win about two months after his candidacy was announced. It was a forgone conclusion in my mind. I even won a lot of money on the betting site Predictt(org). 😉

    One thing that needs to be dispelled are these false memes that were quite successful in turning much of the electorate VEHEMENTLY against Trump. I suspect, you included. You’ve probably heard about the “fake news” controversy recently. Well, these false memes were spread through the fake news circuit and they essentially took on a life of their own and became de facto. I’ll address two of them here:

    Race Meme: The meme was that Trump was/is a racist. Now remember, Trump has been in the nation’s spotlight for the better part of 40 years. He’s been hailed by every corner of the nation’s media and glitterati, been fawned over on Oprah… etc. So all of a sudden, because of poorly arranged words in an off the cuff speech, we’re given to believe that this man who’s been in the public eye for 40 years and never known to be a racist, is all of a sudden a racist? Doesn’t the average mind at least give pause to that notion given the full body of evidence?

    So let’s look at his words. The famous speech where he talks about illegal immigration from Mexico where he says rapists and murderers are coming in. Now, if you simply take that at face value (without applying some sort of white guilt politically correct lens to it), it is true. Rapists and murderers ARE coming over the border. We can debate all the other ramifications of having an unsecure border, but what he said is absolutely true. And last time I checked, statements of fact can’t be racist. Now the UNFORTUNATE part of what he said was tagged onto the end when he said that there were obviously good people coming over too. As if to say that was the minority of the people. That’s what happens when someone speaks extemporaneously. Your train of thought dictates your words, which can sometimes be illogical in its order. But this is where we have the 40 year thing. A reasonable person would look at his 40 years and apply it to the speech and just assume that he wasn’t being a racist. He was simply trying to put forth the notion that border security was essential to a sovereign nation. The SAME thing that Bill Clinton said in front of Congress in the 90’s.

    Another “racist” false meme that got traction through the fake news network (which includes even CNN) was his comments on the judge. You’d have thought Trump was marching in front of a courthouse wearing a sheet, based on how apoplectic the left became. But when someone is defending themselves from a legal perspective, those kinds of biases are quite commonly argued. You should know that. What the left didn’t particularly like to report was that judge’s connections to illegal immigrant advocacy groups. What??? Based on Trump’s obvious stance on illegal immigration in the election, of course it COULD be a conflict of interest. So bringing it up as a possible conflict of interest wasn’t “racist” at all. Again, let’s look at the 40+ years for context.

    Sexist Meme: This was the most ridiculous false meme really. The audio clip had him saying that some women were so enamored with stardom that they will ALLOW themselves to be grabbed. No where in that audio clip did he say that HE would do it or has done it. But even so, he’s referring to women that allow it to happen with stars. Allowing someone to grab you is not sexual assault. But the left was successful in characterizing it as him “approving of sexual assault”. And they were quite successful in doing so since you referred to it in your post as an unassailable fact. But it is factually incorrect.

    The false memes didn’t stop at those two things. But I’m sure I’ve worn out my welcome already. Ha!

    The bottom line is, enough people saw through those false accusations and actually saw a candidate that loved his country so much that he was willing to give up the last years of his otherwise amazing life as a public servant to put the country back on track to greatness. Think about it. He already had an Air Force One of his own. He already had fame. He already had the “trappings” of the President without all the restrictions. Why else would one run for President in that position if it wasn’t because he truly thought he could add something to the country and go out doing something great in the twilight years of his life?

    And for many (me included), it was simply making sure that someone who’s whole public life has been one of self aggrandizement and enrichment at the expense of the American people, was stopped from continuing to do so. Above all else, I believe THOSE votes were her undoing.

    But take heart, Trump’s ego will spurn him on to greatness. It’s quite possible that Trump’s presidency will be the most transformative one in history. Contrary to Trump’s characterization in the leftist media, he’s going to do what’s best for our country. That includes ALL of us. Not just “white people”, as the media will have you believe.

    God speed with the book. I can’t wait to read it.

    P.S. I’m sure there are people reading this who will disagree with my words. As Pence said about the Hamilton fiasco, “That’s the sound of freedom.” But I won’t be replying because my post wasn’t meant to kick off a flame war on Thriftygirl’s post. Just trying to lend context to her obvious depression. XXOO

    Reply
    1. Thriftygal Post author

      Thank you for your comment. I disagree with everything you said, except for the second to the last line. I don’t want to argue about this with strangers over the internet.

      I am deeply sad.

      Reply
      1. Greg

        Oh my, exactly your comment. The election has me swaying from despair/disbelief to cautiously hopeful it “will be ok”. But the latter usually feels hopelessly optimistic.

        Reply
  11. Withholding

    The other important point to self care is to mind the depression. Mine has been much worse since the election. Extreme grief, anger, despair. I’m keeping up with the news, but limiting it to the honorable news organizations that don’t resort to click-bait sensationalism. The old guard of the NYT, WaPo, WSJ, NYer, The Atlantic, NYRB, Harper’s, and NPR. I just mostly (except here) avoid the Comments sections because the people who, even when they’ve won via the electoral college, still resort to cheap “Kool-Aid” comments, are really annoying.

    Remember that she won the popular vote, by a significant amount, which partially restores my faith in the future of American republic.

    Reply
  12. Biglaw Investor

    I hear ya Thriftygal. I’m pretty bummed out about this election as well. I’m taking comfort in the fact that more people voted for a Democrat for the White House, more people voted for a Democrat for the Senate and (still waiting on this one) possibly more people voted for a Democrat for their House seat. In particular, over two million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump. The electoral college will elect Donald Trump, but the people of the country rejected him.

    Reply
  13. banyanbat

    It may sound strange but I don’t like to read newspaper, listen to news, follow politics or even sports. I think its a waste of time, at least for me. Instead I like to spend my time walking/playing outdoors, reading the books I like, cooking and sometimes watching the TV series and movies on my favourite genre (May be a waste of time for most people but there are things we do just for fun and not for any universally approved gain). Staying away from news has not particularly damaged anything in my life so far :).

    Reply
  14. Luis

    HRC made several mistakes. For example, she made $20million in two years giving speeches to Wall Street. Due to wiki leaks, we learned of DNC operatives working with her campaign to undermine Bernie Sanders. And, she was very supportive of TTP. She could have avoided the above actions and probably won the election.

    Reply
  15. snowcanyon

    First of all, thank you for addressing the election and its aftermath; very few finance bloggers have, for reasons unknown. It’s funny; I had the same exact reactions to the election, from news gorging and depression to news fast. Do I really need a daily blow-by-blow? Or can I read a good news source once a week so I know to which causes I want to send my hard-earned money? I’m not comfortable with a 100% fast- I want to know which politicians to call, and what to say to them, and which causes need my time, money, and energy, but I agree that too much news all the time is unhealthy and counterproductive.

    I subscribed to the NYT and will give it a weekly once over. I haven’t been on social media for over a year, and will never return. It’s a manipulative time suck that, I felt, brought out the worst in people. I’ve been devoting more time to reading, both fiction and non-fiction, and it’s been great. I’ve also donated to worthy causes and taken myself off mailing lists. Also great.

    And remember, La Hillaria won the popular vote by over 1.5%.

    Reply
    1. Thriftygal Post author

      I suspect they haven’t written about it because they don’t want to deal with the comments from people telling them they’re stupid and they’re unsubscribing. Just a guess. I don’t read any other FI bloggers anymore.

      Reply
  16. Cindy

    Hi, I really enjoy your writing and am glad you shared your opinion however I couldn’t disagree more with you about turning a blind eye to reality. While I think it’s always a wise idea to not get sucked down the rabbit hole of sensationalist news, you DO need to be aware of what’s happening and it’s important more than ever to make your voice heard and stand up for what you believe in! It’s my belief this is how we got into this mess, too many people thinking things will be taken care of for them and not engaging enough in the political process. It’s a privilege to live in this country and be able to vote, and while it may be less painful to look away, it’s up to every individual to make their voice heard, support the things you believe in, and speak up (call your senator, sign a petition, talk about it with people in your life) when something does not sit well with you.
    How much more does it take to get people to wake up, decide it just might be up to them too, and to take action?

    Reply
    1. Thriftygal Post author

      A large part of me agrees! I’m just not sure how to engage right now without hurling myself off a cliff in despair.

      Reply
        1. zed

          A blogger who happen to be a man would never get that kind of comment. The pussy grabbing should have been disqualifying in itself. America is so sexist. So sad, this is all so sad…

          Reply
      1. snowcanyon

        I have tried to spend at least some of my time productively. You probably don’t need to read the news- at least not much- to find causes you support. Pick a few charities, and maybe send them a few dollars. Volunteer to register people to vote, protest the pipeline, escort women to clinics, teach literacy, call your senators/representatives once a week, link to worthy organizations on your blog (and explain why you are supporting them), whatever works for you.

        I can guarantee that taking action, whether it’s ten dollars to a worthy organization or a few hours a week of your time, or links and analysis on your blog, will benefit both the world and also you (in every way-mentally, emotionally, psychologically).

        Don’t feel any effort is too small. Don’t feel you have to do everything, and a few days of paralysis are normal. But we ALL must act, inasmuch as we can, for EVERYONE’s sake.

        Reply
  17. Laszlo

    I knew you would speak, or write. Eventually. And to speak is inherently to stand for hope. I am thankful for your voice, for your being, and at the time of Thanksgiving it releases a burden inside me to be thankful, but despite this momentary grasp of happiness I am so heavy and broken myself.

    It has been a surreal week, the week of the US election. What of Leonard Cohen’s passing, what of my former girlfriend sharing that she had met someone and she is getting married shotgun style to a man who could be her father in age, and of course, what of the election upset.

    Ditto on the fear of fundamentals eroding, and all the other scary possibilities, and a witless, sad and corny looney at the helm of Western civilization.

    The recent rise in the stock market is actually more concerning than a potential market correction that was looming in the huge S&P futures drop on the night of the election that mysteriously recovered by the next morning. It’s almost like a carrot, but I won’t bite, and fear bad faring ahead.

    Reply
  18. Giovanni

    If you have time to read one more book and would like some perspective on current events I highly recommend Neil Howe’s “The Fourth Turning” which explains that we’re in this generational turning during which everything seems to be coming undone. The great news from the book is that we’ve been here before (and we’ll be here again in about 80 years or so) and we survived because the generations coming up behind us stepped in and did the hard work of putting things back together again. The author had researched this recurring pattern back into medieval European times and because of international events seems to be bringing the rest of world along on the same ride.

    Reply
  19. tt

    Concur with Giovanni… a slightly more dispassionate perspective would consider:

    Strauss–Howe generational theory & the fourfold cycle of generational types and recurring mood eras in American history

    And the old lawyer’s truth:

    if ya got the facts, pound the facts; if ya got the law, pound the law; if ya don’t have the facts or the law, pound the table!

    We live in a time of ends justifying the means… sound & fury, (often) signifying nothing.

    Reply
  20. steve poling

    AS for stepping 10,000 steps each day and working on your book, I have two things to offer: 1) I built a treadmill desk from $100 in lumber and a weekend’s labor. Thus I average 20,000 steps per day. Whereas I find it possible to do most programming tasks while stepping at 3.8mph, writing proves difficult. 2) if you buy a copy of Analog magazine this year you’ll likely see my friend Martin’s name on the cover. He writes during his commute each day by dictating his deathless prose into his smart phone. You might consider combining these two steps to boost your productivity.

    As for the end of life as we know it: neither party is as demonic as the other side would lead us to believe. The American Constitution was drafted by people with a profound distrust in human nature and it built in safeguards against the fears both sides love to monger. Both sides claim ridiculous things about the other side and the more we cocoon ourselves within ONE partisan camp’s agitprop the further our perceptions will drift from reality. I sincerely believed a Trump election would produce a Brexit-like market drop followed by a Brexit-like market recovery. I was wrong about the first part. The markets seem to think Trump will be good for business and this will reflect positively in your VTSAX. Enjoy your increasing net worth. Living well is the best revenge.

    Reply
  21. Melissa Yuan-Innes

    I agree with you, and I’m proud of you for speaking up, even though you knew you’d get blowback.

    I also avoid a constant news stream. I use the news educate myself and to vote, but there’s no reason to let it play a constant refrain in my head. It’s a tool, not an obligation.

    I sent money to stop the Dakota pipeline going through Standing Rock, via their legal defence fund (https://t.co/VLr5Boukzp or directly to freshetcollective@gmail.com). Other people have supported the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. I consider this a better strategy than saying “Everything will be okay” or “Your fears are exaggerated.” If we don’t speak up and act now, then when?

    I trimmed a bit of our VUN (Canadian version of VTI/VTSAX) before the election and have bought a few bonds and international funds post-election. In retrospect, it would have been more profitable to stay all in VUN, but as you pointed out, past behaviour doesn’t predict future performance.

    I’m not primarily worried about the financially savvy people who read this blog. The poor and marginalized are always hit first. And what about the environment and animals, who have no voice at all?

    Dangerous times. What can you do, except keep writing and keep fighting the good fight.

    Reply
  22. Erin

    Hi Anita, I feel the same as you about news consumption, especially at the moment. It is really tempting to retreat into books, nature and writing and avoid the news.

    However, I work in a field (international law) where it is important to stay abreast of international political developments, so I can’t ignore the news and I also don’t think that we should. We need to understand the world we live in in order to effectively act on it. But to do that, we don’t need to read the news every single day for a blow-by-blow account that is often geared towards sensationalism.

    I have found that a good solution is to listen to the BBC’s The World This Week podcast once a week – it summarises the important international news of the past week, puts it in context and explains why it matters. If there are issues that I want to know more about after listening to the podcast, then I read more about it. I think this is a good balance between staying informed and staying sane!

    Reply
  23. Richard P. Beem (@BeemPatentLaw)

    Love your blog Anita and your thrift and adventures. Read about you in new ABA J. Dec. 2016. You strike me as sort of a modern day Thoreau. Except he stayed home. Me, I’ve mostly escaped BigLaw, though running a small firm is no picnic either. Agree with you on mindless addiction of Internet and media. On travel, I’ve chosen to attend international bar meetings of AIPPI, which has taken me to India and many interesting places around the globe. Keep it up, Girl. Next time you’re in Chicago, let’s have coffee.

    Reply
  24. eazi

    the whole birth defect of these ramblings are, that you think that you are such an intelligent thrifty gal. Sorrz but how could you be so cocky to think you are on the right side, especially in politics? to have the impression to be intelligent on oneself is the starting point of many misperceptions. looks really like one-way kool-aid storm trooper

    Reply
      1. eazi

        thats a nice one, which I often fully apply for myself. But dont forget to be self-reflective. Seems that you are for the messiah obama party. Exactly that non-challenging of that/one side would bring the next Hitlary, doesn’t matter what name. attention

        Reply
  25. Katsiki

    Thriftygal, keep your chin up! Don’t worry about these goofballs posting lewd or dumb things.

    And yes, I’m on the other side of the political divide from TG. She doesn’t deserve stupidity on her blog for posting what she thinks or feels.

    Reply
  26. zeejaythorne

    There is a balance between fighting the tyranny and giving in to despair. At different parts of our days, we’ll need to take care of ourselves in different ways.

    Reply

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