This year was a lot. So was last year. And the year before that. Living through history, we have all learned, is a lot.
There is no doubt that Americans, along with most of the world, are suffering from news fatigue. Our lives have been upended by a series of crises which are largely outside of our control. The news coverage of these crises are constructed to drive fear rather than inform, in an effort to grow engagement, improve viewership, and sell advertisements. Meanwhile, our political leaders have confronted these cascading crises with rhetoric and half-measures, as most politicians and pundits remain disconnected from the experience of the average citizen.
There are two general causes of the news fatigue we feel:
- The historic crises we are living through
- The media coverage of those crises
We cannot control the first cause, but for the second cause, we have a few options: 1) we can accept the media coverage and let it consume us; 2) we can disconnect from the news; or 3) we can try to ground ourselves and disconnect news from commentary.
Our current media ecosystem is constructed to cover every story through an immediate lens: BREAKING NEWS: TODAY’S TOP STORY! What does this mean for Democrats? What are the implications for the 2024 election? How is Joe Voter going to feel about this unprecedented development!? JOIN US TOMORROW FOR MORE BREAKING NEWS!
This story-of-the-day commentary-based presentation of the news has diluted our ability to critically assess the historic moment we are living through. By tying every historic crisis we have encountered over the past six years to a political winner and loser of the day, we have polarized our reality. The pandemic provides the clearest and most unfortunate example. Fox News et al. have their winners and losers, and their own reality, while MSNBC et al. have their winners and losers, and their own reality. Then the media commodifies those independent realities leaving us all with a very important choice: do we prefer MyPillow ads or Chase Bank ads?
The instinctive response to this firehose of soundbites and flashy graphics is to either lose yourself in it and follow it like the WWE, or entirely disconnect from it. What’s more, the revolving door of pundits which has exploded in American politics has sought to relegate the role of political discourse to that of a profession, meant to be exercised by an educated, expert, and elite class of knowledgeable individuals who are just off screen, always prepared to offer their rapid analysis on the most important issues of our time.
Unfortunately, information that isn’t funneled through these corporatized channels, or academia, can be difficult to verify and, of course, could be entirely fabricated. All of these elements, in an era of uncertainty and existential struggle, create mass news fatigue and anxiety in the population.
Most of us can feel this anxious undercurrent in our daily lives: a quiet, often unspoken understanding that things which are outside of our control are pretty bad right now. This undercurrent is made more acute given the fact we have little control over the causes of our angst: coronavirus, the media, our politics, global instability, the climate crisis, and so on.
The best defense I have found against news fatigue has been to disconnect the news, or what happened, from daily political commentary, or which political party will benefit or suffer as a result of what happened.
Whether focusing on a specific interest area or in examining the broader geopolitical moment, you should trust your ability to consume the news and separate it from the horserace of American politics. You should feel compelled to disregard the pundit class, who are paid to fill time between insurance ads, and instead seek the sober analysis of academics, authors, activists, artists, and most importantly, real people who are living their lives. Weigh each as you see fit and form your own view of the world, of the political moment, and so on.
Establishing this practice, rather than relying on the pundit class to do it for you, requires a little more work but ultimately lowers the stakes of how you consume the news.
You will find there is no need to connect every item you read to a momentary political narrative. The narrative can (and usually will) change within a month, so why even bother? Instead, remain informed and follow trends over time in an effort to formulate an independent, well-reasoned world view. Take your time with it and always remain willing to change your mind.
Next, understanding that the crises we face are broad and will continue for years, you should be prepared to engage in solidarity. Having a plan and strong network in place will help combat the feelings of isolation and helplessness in an era of competing global crises. Regardless of the specifics, the foundation of these communities will naturally be a common understanding of the future you hope to build, and from there, the rest will begin fall into place.
We can see the success of this model in the labor movement. It is no coincidence that a strong labor movement reemerged immediately following the pandemic. Crisis breeds opportunity, for better or for worse. Knowing that we find ourselves in a moment of incredible global crises we must be prepared to build a new and better future for ourselves.
The current crises are a result of a system we were born into, fostered by many of the same people who remain in power today along with their wealthy benefactors. If Millennials and Generation Z are meant to leave their mark, and I believe we are, it will be through solidarity and collective action. It will be through the power of strong communities created by necessity in response to the many crises of our era.
Tomorrow’s leaders are the activists of today, directly confronting the challenges that our failing institutions have created.
Finally, in this technological era of a saturation of information and proliferation of misinformation, it is important you trust yourself and your instincts. The system we were born into was constructed to make us doubt our instincts. We are told if we put our head down and work hard that we will be rewarded, either by wealth in this life or salvation in the next. But this narrative is being questioned, as it has been in the past, and tomorrow is a new day.
Smithville Flats, NY
“Keep your face always toward the sunshine and shadows will fall behind you.”