Whatever you focus on appears more important than it seems. This is an illusion that is a byproduct of having a human brain.
Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it. – Daniel Kahneman
The focusing illusion overrates the importance of anything we think of in a particular moment. The news has a near monopoly on what masses of people think of from moment to moment. It plays an inordinate role in determining what is important in our lives.
Therefore, most people read or watch the news everyday. They feel that reading the news helps them become better informed citizens. Most parents see it as a healthy habit to push on their children. Most teachers see it as a must have for their pupils.
But think about it. What is on the news? Most events reported are of global importance on which the lay person has little influence over. With the internet, this dispersal has only increased. Today, I know about Ajit Pai’s Reese’s coffee mug, Elon Musk’s tiff with a British cave diver and the Chinese premier’s hatred of Winnie the Pooh. All of this is information that I have no influence over. Nor does it have much utility.
I might be cherry picking those examples, but let us consider how news was in the past. News was traditionally hyper local. It concerned a particular town or city and whatever was noteworthy there. It had a certain bearing on the citizens that received it. In recent decades, with the spread of cable and internet news, it has lost this local relevance. What gets filtered through is simply the sensational, the entertaining, the quirky, but not necessarily the most important information. Nevertheless, due to the focusing illusion, all those things seem important to us in the moment that we read them. If this information was really important, why can’t we remember the news from a year ago, a month ago or even a week ago?
Besides, all that news comes at the cost of other reading. And there is no dearth of great literature that is handed down to us across the ages. Classics that survive through the ages pass the test of being remembered for years – the same test that news fails.
The next time a parent or a teacher pushes children to read the news, I would urge them to think twice. With the best of intentions, they would be doing their wards a disservice.
Suggested reading: Why you should stop reading the news – Farnam Street blog