Archive for February, 2016

My desire to stay informed is directly challenged by my desire to stay sane.

Variations of the quote above have been floating around for quite some time, but in recent times (mainly driven by our political cycle for me), it has been ringing around in my head more and more.

For well over a decade I have gotten out of the habit of watching the nightly news that my parents had ingrained in me throughout my childhood.  When I left home and went out on my own, for a few years, I kept up this habit, but over time determined that the negativity and that outright spin and omission that drove every reporter to have you see things their way was a problem.  Somewhere in here I read “the Gift of Fear” by Gavin DeBecker (a book I highly recommend) and he had an epilogue in the book that really resonated with me, basically centered around the fact that the news industry is successful because they create artificial fear, worry and anxiety.  Removing this negativity from your life was something he preached to learn to actually know what to be fearful of.

Lately, as we have moved to the land of cord cutters and had less to watch, for some reason I started up on one nightly new program again.  After trying this for several weeks (and coupled with the fact that I am driving my wife nuts by not watching these news reports when they appear on our streaming service, already a day or two late, but binge watch them every couple weeks, so we are seeing very old news) it has started to bring back all those irrational concerns and skepticism and therefore I am going to remove this from our repertoire and go back to looking things up that I need to know about on the internet but staying away from all the sensationalism and junk.

A new temptation in this space are these new “reality crime dramas”.  The one we got sucked in to was “Making a Murderer”.  I was reluctant to delve into this as I thought it would be something similar; just a prolonged news story edited in such a way to cause fear, trepidation and panic in the viewing public about just how messed up the system is.  I found myself four episodes in to the ten episode series knowing where things were headed and really asking myself do I want to burn another six hours of my life to keep watching a highly edited train wreck.  After talking it over with my wife we decided we had already invested four hours of our life, so we might as well get the full payoff, a sentiment I’m sure was heavily discussed in the board room of Netflix when they were pitched the series.  “Most viewers will feel like they are getting the same information over and over by the mid point of the series and will see that we are painting a picture of Steven Avery as a tragically wronged soul, but we promise the series is just compelling enough to drag viewers into finishing it”.  My challenge with this logic is that had this been network TV, there would be ad dollars at stake to suck viewers in and make them stay.  I can see this with the FX American Crime Story that just started yesterday, I believe, and will have commercials to sell.  Netflix, however, does not make money by ads, but they already have it by subscriptions.  I suppose if they get me to keep burning hours watching things I should walk away from because I feel invested, that gets me further down the road to the next payment, when I can find something else to watch, so I suppose it works.  Thing is there are other shows on Netflix, like House of Cards or Orange Is The New Black that I KNOW are more entertaining than Making a Murderer, but that desire to stay informed won out over the desire to stay sane.  Maybe, I told myself, since this is a documentary, they will give me some great insight into how reforms are coming in the justice system to change it for the better.  Nope.

This all comes at an interesting time in my life.  I am having to find a new job, and in the last few days have been blessed with a lot of solid activity that now has me in the middle of four, marginally five, solid opportunities.  One of these is the typical, good job at a good company that could turn into a good career, and another is a really interesting company that really pulls at my soul as a thing I would love to be a part of but it is smaller, lots of remote staff and for all intents and purposes a start-up, at least for my department that I would be leading even though the company has been around for decades.  As I really step back and pray for guidance it slowly came to me that this impact of regenerating this fear and worry from getting back into edited and canned news is having an impact on things like deciding what truly is the best choice for a job.  Since the one opportunity is in a travel space I started taking the news of the Zika virus and all the hype around it and asking if it would impact this company and should I therefore stay away from it, but calmer, prayerful reflection showed me that that was not a sane response because the issues that are caused by Zika are really not ones that the target customers would be upset about.  If I had instead used a method of just learning about the real threats of Zika from a solid article versus the overhyped reporting showing the same three infants born with microcephaly over and over, my reaction would have certainly been less visceral.

It is this challenge that we need to guard against to keep our sanity, exactly as the lead quote indicates.  We need to find way to stay informed, but to do so in a way that is not effecting our ability to be rational.  We are constantly drawn to feel like if we are not informed we are somehow less, but I feel that is a societal pressure and not an actual reality.  We are made to feel like “what you did not hear what happened yesterday?” and that makes us feel inferior to the individual that is asking.  Are we really inferior?  No.  We can get informed in a few minutes from sources that we choose that are less entertainment and marketing driven.  It is this inferiority that led my wife to add a CNN notifier app to her phone, and me to think that watching news again, even if it is late, was somehow worthwhile.  It is not.  I can go out, as I had for over a decade and check a few sites to see what I might need to know about.  I can listen to conversations I have with others and if something peeks my interest, only then will I take time to go learn about it rather than have some news cycle determine for me what I should be informed about because they can make a sensational story about it.  I pray that in general my fellow countrymen will do the same thing as we move into a formal election cycle for an individual that can be our national guidepost for the next eight years as the world gets more and more complex, and when spun by the proper producer and director like in “Making a Murderer” or any nightly or weekly news show we can find, can cause us to lose our humanity and devolve into the fear and irrational behavior of frightened animals.

We all need to stay sane, and the first step in that is to understand the things that make it hard to do so. I’ll be removing these news programs from our cycle again, and we can dig into what we need.  This has been a blessing moving to streaming services has produced in that I can’t always get what I “want”.  American Crime Story is not appearing on Hulu.  I have been saved from my weaker self.  I’m pretty sure when I am looking for something good to watch later, this will not rise to the top of my list.