Information overload is not a newly discovered phenomenon, but recently Rolf Dobelli provided some interesting thoughts and discussions about the detrimental influence on individuals and societies by the “toxic form of knowledge” called “news.”
Moreover, in an essay entitled: “Avoid News: Towards a Healthy News Diet” he offers some ideas “how to get out of this trap – if you are not already too deeply in it”.
According to Dobelli “our brains are optimized for our original hunter-gatherer environment where we lived in small bands of 25 to 100 individuals with limited sources of food and information.”
Today however, “we have reached the same point in relation to information overload that we faced 20 years ago in regard to food intake” and what is more “thanks to heavy news consumption, many people have lost the reading habit and struggle to absorb more than four pages straight”.
Other issues, such as work overload and multitasking that are not discussed by Dobelli, might also be relevant to this phenomenon.
For example, I know scientists that peruse only the abstracts from science articles yet overlook the Discussion sections. Often the ‘beauty’ of these writings, the discussion delves deeper into detail and requires more time to read. This makes me wonder whether the combination of work and news overload, and multitasking may contribute to an ‘Acquired’ Attention Deficit Syndrome that may affect some people in the modern world.
It is worth mentioning few examples of Dobelli’s point of views and why news:
Misleads us systematically: He argues that as a result of news, “we walk around with the completely wrong risk map in our heads”. For example: “Terrorism is overrated. Chronic stress is underrated”. “The collapse of Lehman Brothers is overrated. Fiscal irresponsibility is underrated”, etc.
News is toxic to your body and “constantly triggers the limbic system…….the release of cascades of glucocorticoids….this deregulates your immune system …….your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress…..the other potential side effects …include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision and desensitization.”
Inhibits thinking: “News items are like free-floating radicals that interfere with clear thinking…..because you have opened yourself up to the disruptive factoid stream.” Thus, “news makes us shallow thinkers.”
Changes the structure of your brain:“It is like a drug, it is addictive…This has to do with a process called “long-term potentiation” (LTP) and the reward circuits in your brain… The human brain is highly plastic. Nerve cells routinely break old connections and form new ones. When we adapt to a new cultural phenomenon….we end up with a different brain”. Quoting Professor Michael Merzenich (University of California, San Francisco, CA), a pioneer in the field of neuroplasticity: “We are training our brains to pay attention to the crap.”
Makes us passive: Dobelli makes a case that the human brain reacts to “a barrage of ambiguous information” with “passivity and a sense of victimhood”. Here he refers to a scientific term called ‘learned helplessness’, and he believes that this may contribute, at least in part, to the widespread epidemics of depression.
News kills creativity…that might be simply due to distraction. According to the author a creative mind and a news junkie is not a good or existing match, and that reading news is the easiest way to achieve old solutions.