Turning Off the “News”
Yes, It’s Really Okay to Reduce Our Exposure to the Global Info Onslaught

By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in Medium on 10 September 2021

Thanks to recent flooding in my part of the country, I’ve been too busy digging myself and my neighbors out the mud to watch the news or scroll through Twitter. Not surprisingly, I am better for it.

Somehow, even without the benefit of either Glenn Greenwald’s tweets or Rachel Maddow’s rants, I’m still aware of what’s going on in the world. I get the newspaper on my doorstep, and email headlines in my inbox. I know about climate change, the California governor recall election, and the new citizen-informant system in Texas for people to turn in neighbors who try to get abortions after five weeks. But, having “dropped out” just after Joe Rogan recovered from Covid, I don’t know who is winning the argument over whether it was the expensive monoclonal antibodies that saved him, or the much maligned ivermectin. I don’t know whether Obama, Trump, or Biden is currently being blamed for misreading the Taliban the worst. I don’t even know who was canceled last week, if Bitcoin is up, or if Newsmax ever figured out that the guy they’ve been putting on their air as Paul Wolfowitz is really one of the YesMen.

Instead, I’ve been part of an ad hoc crew of locals and volunteer firefighters bailing out each other’s basements, shoveling mud from living rooms, carrying busted hot water heaters to the curb, and making meals for those without kitchens. We are an ideologically and economically (if not racially) diverse community of the vaxed and unvaxed, masked and unmasked, who may differ on whether this is a once-in-a-lifetime extreme weather event or the new normal.

But our common commitment to mutual aid, sharing resources, and comforting the truly devastated far outweighs those differences — which were themselves largely manufactured by political and corporate interests who do not have our best interests at heart, anyway. Sure, we can spend our time watching incendiary YouTubes or reading whichever Substack writer stokes our rage the best, or we can get to the real work of making our communities as resilient as possible.

Is it important to know what’s going on in the world? Sure it is. All citizens are activists to a certain extent. Our votes matter, and so does our direct action when it’s called for. But only a tiny, tiny fraction of us need to be hashing out these issues in public, weighing in on the pharmacological action of mRNA vaccines, or strategizing withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Moreover, the more resilient and self-sufficient we can become on a local level, the less pressure we put on these larger systems and decisions. The more sustainable our local economies, the less brittle will be their response to a sudden influx of immigrants or Covid-related business closures. The more quickly and efficiently we can assist each other during extreme weather events, the less dependent we’ll be on FEMA and other centralized authorities for cash.

Such cooperation may actually require that we reduce our exposure to the most inflammatory messaging coming from our for-profit news opinion shows and Internet platforms, which work hard to undermine the collaborative spirit we need to face the challenges ahead. It’s not that the world can go on without our attention. It’s that our attention is better spent — and more urgently needed — in the real world we inhabit with our embodied selves.