by Taylor Jacobson
If you have a voracious appetite for politics and news media, your consumption habits might be hurting you more than they’re helping. It’s time we re-examine a piece of wisdom that is several millennia old: focus on the things in your life that you can control and let go of the rest.
While it’s true that choosing what to consume is a personal decision, there’s a problem with the social convention that being politically informed is an unalloyed good and that the debate should center on what to consume rather than how much or whether to consume at all.
I’m happy to report that as of today, I know almost nothing about politics or current events. Having studied economics and public policy in college, I never set out to be apolitical. Yet, as I reached the level of maturity necessary to make intentional decisions about how I spend my time, I began consuming less and less political news and media in general, as I became aware that – barring a committed career choice – the political landscape is largely outside my sphere of influence.
One form of political impact that is readily available to us is voting. When it’s time to vote, I do just enough research to make a decision and I cast my ballot. However, I do not read any news or op-eds. I never discuss politics – not because I have some dogma about when it’s appropriate to do so but because I simply don’t know enough to do so. I find Steven Colbert and John Stewart clever and witty, but feel that even their comedy-ized version of politics is just a waste of time.
And the whole scheme is going swimmingly. The price I pay is that I may appear uninformed and be judged by someone now and then – but you’d be surprised how easy it is to win over a political animal by simply listening to his or her point of view. Arguably, I have an easier time making friends because I don’t need to prove my merit. The benefit is far greater – I avoid the perpetual influx of that aggressive, polarizing energy that surrounds politics and can reinvest that time and effort into my work, health and relationships.
Let me share some context. My business helps high performers create the lives and careers they want – lives that are fulfilling, highly remunerative and empowering for health and relationships. Having worked with hundreds of people and dug into the depths of what a fulfilled life means to different people, I have found a degree of consistency that would be remarkable if it wasn’t so grounded in science. More or less, all that matters are our evolution-informed, socio-biological drives – to build strong bonds with others, to contribute meaningfully to the community, and to pass on our genes to the next generation.
What end, then, is our addiction to political news media serving?
One argument is that civic engagement is aligned with the human drive to contribute meaningfully to the community. I tend to agree with this position. But there is a critical distinction between true civic engagement and media consumption: Civic engagement is to media consumption as sex is to masturbation. One serves an objective and creates tangible impact. The other is just a way to escape for a while from the sometimes-scary substance of our existence – a pastime akin to following a professional sports league, reading racy novels or even using an alcohol-induced high to forget about life for a while.
I salute the tenacious men and women who dedicate their careers to public service, but we should not confuse public service with the mode of engagement that most of us choose – passive consumption. Are your media consumption habits really serving you? Maybe not.
Taylor Jacobson writes at 21Switchbacks.com, where he helps you use your mind to become the person you really want to be. For practical ideas on how to transform your career, health and relationships, join his free newsletter. Or, download his free guides, 10 Resources To Change Your Mind & Life and 12 Steps To Ninja Productivity.