For a long time I have not watched regular or live TV. Technically I watch sports which is live TV, so I guess I have to say I no longer watch scripted TV. Like more and more people, if I do watch TV, I watch something streamed via iTunes, netflix, or amazon instant video. My wife is a huge fan of Hulu. It is kind of crazy how much money we spend to watch “free” TV. I think the reality is that we will pay to watch TV we want to watch without the distraction of commercials.
I stopped watching TV because I often play a video game instead, or I am coaching, or responding to email, or all the other administrivia of life. I hardly think I am unique. But what really had a surprising impact for me was a small system change in my personal life-flow. I stopped reading the news.
According to the TED book Beware of Dangerism by Gever Tulley, violent crime is now a very tiny percentage of all crime in the United States, maybe less than 2%? Violent crime against children is probably 2% of that. However, in the mainstream media violent crime makes up nearly 43% of all news reporting and violent crime against children makes up nearly 48% of that. We are taking the smallest, most salacious part of our society and putting front and center stage.
Social Outrage Entrepreneurs: I first heard this term used by John Stossel in his book, “Give Me a Break“. It occurs to me that the media has a product to sell, and the stronger the emotional response of the viewer, the better their chances of keeping their attention. You see, they can sell your attention to someone else. Essentially this puts them in the business of peddling outrage. They are the original social outrage entrepreneurs.
But do you have to buy it?
It occurred to me that if I read something, heard something, or saw something that made me upset, I had just been sold something. I had traded my attention for outrage. What’s more, the other party profited by that. Now I am nothing against profit. I will gladly purchase products and services from companies that deliver a real value. But what value is there in feeling outraged? Why do I want that? Why would I buy it?
So I stopped buying it. Almost immediately, three amazing things happened. First, I had a lot more time. When your attention is trapped it’s easy to lose track of time. I know, I used to do this for a living. We made video games that would consume your attention and hold you in that most magical place of timeless engagement. Taking back control of my attention let me focus on things that were more meaningful to me personally (like my family, my business, and my community).
Secondly, I became more interesting to the people around me. Why? Because I became a listener. People can’t wait to share with me what they know. Suddenly my network of people became my source of news and information. They would share with me the news that resonated with them, and through the filter of their experience and perspective I would get a much more human, balanced, and less anger inducing version of events. So I get the double bonus of being informed and spending quality time with friends instead of having my face glued to a screen.
Finally, I found (my family gave me the feedback on this) that I was happier most of the time. Being outraged is draining, emotionally, and physically. By spending my attention on the things I care about I find that I am happier, more productive and generally closer to the people around me. Spending time consuming professionally produced attention grabbing emotionally draining propaganda (spin) produced feelings of anxiety that were hard to channel in productive ways.
And the strangest thing? I haven’t missed it.
Give it a try. Go on a media fast. Skip the morning radio – listen to music. I don’t need some guy on the radio pushing my buttons. I know what I believe, what my values are. Turn the TV off, or switch to something entertaining like Intentional Talk. Put down the paper, give the blogs a rest. Hardworking people anxiously trying to meet the relentless deadlines required to fill the internet’s voracious appetite for content rarely write spirited uplifting, inspiring prose. It is easier to be cynical, faster to be snarky, and more respected to express your frustration. Ultimately however, it is more profitable to convey outrage.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some great sources of content on the web. I often look to TED Talks, and TED Books. I find amazing people, doing amazing things incredibly inspirational. I will try to post weekly the links to talks I find interesting, uplifting, or inspiring.
My message is choose wisely. Don’t just give your attention away for free, especially in exchange for feelings of outrage. It’s a poor value, or a transaction I have been poorer for making. Think of it as emotional capitalism. Don’t spend your valuable energy and resources on things you don’t want to buy.
I stopped and so far it has worked for me.