Last Friday, while walking in front of Utrecht Centraal, I was approached by a representative of Doctors without Borders. Campaigning for donations, for a second mobile hospital in Ukraine (essentially a glorified sleeper train). In a very, very slow conversation he asked me if I still followed the news. He seemed surprised when I answered that I indeed still kept up with the news about the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, and told me most people didn’t – not anymore. Most people were tired: too much news, too much bad news, too little advancement.
It’s a phenomenon which I think is very common these days: the amount and the tone of the news cycle is overwhelming. In my efforts to stay engaged with the current events, I find myself only getting more depressed about those current events. Things that seem too funny (like US Republicans being mad about a world-famous popstar because she told young people to vote) or too important to miss (like Israeli higherups that are about to make the umpteenth strategic mistake, threatening the lives hundreds of thousands of civilians in the process) result in you getting swept away by the ocean that is the 24-hour news cycle.
There has been a lot of discussion around the concept of so-called ‘rage-bait’: people on social media – politicians, influencers, random strangers – publicly taking stupid, outrageous, and often unholdable positions on politically divisive issues. The drama, no, thermo-nuclear war that ensues in the comment sections drives engagement, brings in more views, and often more money for the original poster.
I think this concept of rage-bait, or more so the workings behind the idea and the rage part of rage-bait, applies to so much more than just random social media posts: the real-world news is sometimes as negative and politically divisive as those (often fake) rage-bait posts. And even if we don’t participate in the discussion around that news, we still seem to get baited into raging about the news, over and over again. I almost can’t help myself scrolling to the bottom of every news item to see what other people are talking about. An hour later I throw my phone on my bed again and for the rest of the day, I am grumpy and sad. Again. And again.
It’s important to remember that just because it wouldn’t generate clicks, wouldn’t drive engagement, and thus news outlets and the like don’t talk about it, doesn’t mean there isn’t any positive news out there. The world is big – there are plenty of good things happening too. Plus, it’s okay to take a break. You’re not going to hell if you check out for a couple of days. Mental health is important – and if the news is significantly worsening your mood and your mental fortitude, it’s okay to cut down on the barrage of news topics and the dramatic headlines screaming directly into your ears.
And oh yeah, for your own sake, stay clear from the comment sections of news sites. They’re trainwrecks of unproductive, often unmoderated screaming fights and insults. To me, real-world people and conversations seem much more valuable than fake personas on a screen.