Spending the night under Midwestern clouds is the one place I absolutely love to be. So with the summer flying by I said to my girlfriend, “We haven’t gone camping yet!” We decided to change that, so last weekend we headed to a gorgeous park in the country.
I cracked open a cold PBR and set up the tent on a grassy campsite. It backed up to a wildflower-filled meadow that was overrun by the monarch butterfly.
Did I pull one over on the good ol’ state of Wisconsin? I paid them $15 for the campsite and in return I got all these things:
- Spending time outdoors for 24 straight hours.
- Exercise from hiking the trails.
- Avoidance of shopping.
- No screens of any type: Phone, laptop, tablet, or TV.
- Connecting with loved ones.
- Having no idea what’s happening in the world.
Some people might think that sounds like hell. We wished we had another night.
A couple years ago my girlfriend and I started to practice a little thing we like to call “No Screen Sunday.” We do it on the first Sunday of every month. It’s similar to camping in that we force ourselves to disconnect from technology for the entire day. There are a ton of things to do.
Cooking leisurely meals from Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Going on a bike ride. Reading an actual book. Taking a nap. Practicing yoga. Working on a home or car project. Baking bread. Playing a board game (Scrabble, anyone?). Exercising the idea muscle. Meeting friends for early afternoon cocktails. Sitting in the park. Going on a walk. Having a conversation.
Soon after we started practicing No Screen Sunday I realized I had become a news addict. Hours of my life every day were spent consuming the latest stories from CNN, the New York Times, Google News, and local news websites.
Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
For what, this?
Was the time that I spent reading and knowing this news really making my life any better, and perhaps more importantly, were any of these things in my circle of control?
So I decided to make a change in my daily news consumption and cut the news out for an entire week. Cold turkey. I soon realized how many people use superficial small talk as a substitute for communication:
“I feel so awful about that [insert shooting, kidnapping, rioting, bombing]…”
I make a puzzled look.
“What? What are you talking about?”
“Yeah man, you didn’t hear about that? It’s all over!”
“No, I don’t really keep up with that stuff.”
Then I get the look that says, “You’re such a weirdo, the news makes you a smarter person.”
And that is where I disagree because you are what you eat. Keeping up with the latest news – crimes, disease outbreaks, stock market fluctuations, celebrity gossip, viral BuzzFeeds, political scandals – does not make you any smarter. Or your life any better.
When I was a mess and in a 12-step program we would open and close every meeting with the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
After awhile I realized I only have control over myself. Why waste my time and energy obsessing about things outside my control?
J.D. Roth wrote about becoming proactive in your life by knowing that. It causes a couple things to happen. First, you affect change in your own life because you begin focusing on what you can control. And second, your circle of influence – how often you exercise, how much effort you put into your job, what time you wake up in the morning, how productive you are, how much your personal finances are together – expands:
So maybe you want to try going without the news and see how it goes? Here are a few options: a week-long information cleanse, unplugging for one day every week, or the once-a-month No Screen Sunday that works so well for me.
P.S. I’m promoting being extremely selective about the news you ingest, not ignorance. You should learn about the world and society. My favorite way is by reading long-form journalism. The New Yorker is a perfect example.