What’s our take on News Apps & their impact on Digital Well Being?

P: When Covid struck last year, I was in a little town called Kapkot in Uttarakhand. I hadn’t seen my parents in almost 5 months. I was lonely & afraid. So news apps were a definite no-no. It stirred up all kinds of unwelcomed emotions. It led me to overthink & ruminate. I was stuck inertia. I was so anxious, I couldn’t do anything productive.

N: Just like Payal, I was in a village called Mehrora near Nainital in Uttarakhand. Unlike her though I was surrounded with friends, about 15 of us were living together in a bamboo loft in a one acre farm. So though the news did say cases rising, lockdown and stuff, we were extremely relaxed. Like it wasn’t a big thing. Yes so what if it was spreading, we didn’t know anyone personally, it was just media.

And now when I think of it, it was the last time I felt like that. Since then, this news app has taken full control over the fear button of my brain. I read, I search for COVID symptoms articles Covid death articles and yes, you guessed it, I get scared.

“Do I check the news or not Dilemma’

P: I like many young people face this dilemma. Not checking the news but wanting to stay abreast of events, but the emotional turmoil is so heavy that it’s easier to not stay informed. 

N :Unlike Payal, I deleted all the news app and even blocked google news from my android.And let me tell you, the last few months have been much better for my well being.

P: But Neha, I feel like I have this inner journalist in me, that just want to be informed but not at the cost of my mental health. So I tried out a different strategy. I found a podcast on Spotify called the Happiness Lab by Dr Laurie Santos, A Yale Cognitive Scientist who created the viral course called the ‘Science of well being’. It has a fan following of 3.5 million people worldwide. The underlying idea behind the course was, “using science to live a better life.”  

Managing the 24/7 News Cycle

P: In the course, I learnt I wasn’t alone in the dilemma I was facing. We live in a 24-hour news cycle. Instead of getting sucked into the news cycle, choose the time that is convenient to YOU to read the news not the other way around.

N: Yes, I don’t know everything that’s going on in the world, but so what? I know what’s going on in the lives of people that matter to me, I know what’s the latest update in my field of work, I know there are new movies and documentaries online. I am genuinely happy, after spending a whole year in the clutches of fear thanks to the news.

P: I love that perspective, the only news we need is that our loved ones are fine. I also love how Dr Laurie Santos mentioned that avoiding reading news before and after going to bed will make such a significant difference to our overall well being. Because in order to sleep we need our minds to be relaxed, not anxious or stressed.

N :The power of choice is definitely a wonderful thing and we should utilize it. About a century or two ago, do you think people had access to news about all around the world like we do now? News app, digital server, these are all an extremely recent thing, and having everything at our finger tips, isn’t always a good thing.

Ignorance, my dear friends, is indeed bliss!

P: I couldn’t agree more!

The Power of Meditation

P : I picked up meditation during the second half of the pandemic. I was able to read the newspaper without feeling anxious. This was a huge victory for me since you know how I love being informed. Here’s an instance where my meditation came to play. Goa, where I was staying at that time, had the highest number of deaths across the world. People in goa were dying of a preventable oxygen crisis. This of course was infuriating. But meditation helped me see things as they are, not as I am. I was able to take in the news from an objective perspective.

I’m glad I did, ordinarily, I would have been consumed by my emotions, now I was in charge of how them. A week later, vox came out with the video, titled, ‘India’s oxygen crisis’. I will tell you more about that in a second.

The Negativity Instinct by Hans Rosling

P: In 2019 I read ‘Factfullness’ by Hans Rosling, a Swedish physician, academic, and public speaker. He is famously known for using data to show the world that it isn’t as bad as we think it is.

“Factfulness is about understanding how our instincts program us to exaggerate situations and distort our perception of reality in ways that further exacerbate problems and how we react to them.”

 Source: Rapid Business Plans

You can think of him as a factual optimist. In his book, he talks about 10 different instincts, but today we will focus on just one the ‘Negativity’ instinct.

The negativity instinct tends to exaggerate the negative events more than the positive events. This is by default how our brains are designed. Evolutionary speaking our minds are from the hunter-gather days, we use to lay on the ground, predators everywhere, fire hadn’t been discovered yet so there was literally no hope to keep ourselves safe.

Knowing this can empower you to take charge of your own life. It’s natural for us to gravitate towards the negative. Things get spicy when news outlets, social media tend to fuel this sort of instinct of ours that is when things tend to go out of hand. The more negative the news the more eyeballs. That’s sadly how the world works. The good news doesn’t make good headlines.

So when you’re next checking the news, remember this instinct of ours, yes things are negative, but maybe we don’t have a context connected to it to put it into perspective, Don’t read just one article and make an opinion. read many more and then make an ‘informed opinion’.

Back to Vox’s video

India’s Oxygen Crisis by Vox 

P: This wasn’t India’s first oxygen crisis. Back in Uttar Pradesh in 2017, in a small town called Gorakhpur, 50 people died due to the oxygen shortage. Vox reported that in a country of 1.23 billion people, India had only 23 oxygen plants. They also mentioned that the current government didn’t take the threat seriously. It said it would build 169 more oxygen cylinders but never completed it since there was never any pressure from the public nor was there any investigative journalism in this case. 

So when the pandemic hit, the system was already broken, the pandemic just exposed it. If you have 10 minutes to spare, I recommend you watch the video. Vox is known for its fabulous visuals, attention holding powerful narratives filled in with facts and data that make you look at the world around you differently.

The fact that I watched this video 2-3 ago and is still crystal clear in my head is all thanks to engaging storytelling

Final Take,

P : Be mindful of the news you are consuming, if the news alerts make you anxious when you are on your phone, switching off the notification wouldn’t be a bad idea, since you will be in control of when you would like to know the news, not when the phone wants you. 

Having this little bit of control over our lives can really make a difference in our digital well being.

N: Yes, we all do need to stay updated in this fast paced world, we want to be able to talk to our peers about the latest happening, but you don’t have to sacrifice your wellbeing for it. If you don’t want to know about a certain type of news, block it. You don’t need to know about Covid deaths, you don’t need to know about who our celebrities’ are dating, you need to read and look for news which makes you happy.

There is a lot of negativity around, but you can choose to not take it in. Choose the better things of life. Try it.

Resources 

  1. The Happiness Lab Podcast 
  2. The Science of Well Being Course
  3. Vox’s video on India’s Oxygen Crisis

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