Boston—I will not join in

April 15, 2013

It’s awful that some people have died and that many more are injured. But what about the circus that is no doubt going on on the television? I haven’t tuned in. It’s true that I mostly don’t have cable TV any more, but I do still get CNN. But I’m not going to turn it on. CNN has probably already composed theme music with a purpose-designed graphic to telegraph to its viewers that this is serious, very serious. It is serious.

I’m guessing, though, that the focus of [most any television news outlet] is not on investigating how—with what must have been meticulous preparations and beefed up security—explosives were able to be stowed in the highly public area of the Boston Marathon finish line. That’s not dramatic and emotion-inducing. No. Are they perhaps sensationalizing that one of the dead is a child, or that a Saudi man in hospital was questioned (but not arrested) by police? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Read News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier. Especially the following part. I’m going to guess that this is what’s going on right now.

News misleads. Take the following event (borrowed from Nassim Taleb). A car drives over a bridge, and the bridge collapses. What does the news media focus on? The car. The person in the car. Where he came from. Where he planned to go. How he experienced the crash (if he survived). But that is all irrelevant. What’s relevant? The structural stability of the bridge. That’s the underlying risk that has been lurking, and could lurk in other bridges. But the car is flashy, it’s dramatic, it’s a person (non-abstract), and it’s news that’s cheap to produce. News leads us to walk around with the completely wrong risk map in our heads. So terrorism is over-rated. Chronic stress is under-rated. The collapse of Lehman Brothers is overrated. Fiscal irresponsibility is under-rated. Astronauts are over-rated. Nurses are under-rated.

We are not rational enough to be exposed to the press. Watching an airplane crash on television is going to change your attitude toward that risk, regardless of its real probability. If you think you can compensate with the strength of your own inner contemplation, you are wrong. Bankers and economists – who have powerful incentives to compensate for news-borne hazards – have shown that they cannot. The only solution: cut yourself off from news consumption entirely.(1)

I’m not uninformed. I’ve sought out coverage that I figure is among the less hysterical. But unlike with 9/11 or, more recently, Superstorm Sandy, I’ve chosen not to saturate myself with coverage. The facts will emerge, and I will get them then.

Many people who I know and who I don’t know have reached out with their social media missives to offer prayers and sympathy, or at least empathy. We all react and cope in our own way. I am massively glad that the one person who I know in Boston is fine. The fact is, though, I live in Minneapolis and the events in Boston don’t directly affect me. Maybe, for the very reasons outlined in the article cited above, overexposure to the constant barrage on my feelings over the years has desensitized those same feelings. It’s too bad that people have suffered today but it won’t change my life. That’s obviously easier for me to say because I’m a 49-year-old woman of western European heritage and have little fear of being ethnically profiled in the coming weeks, or ever.

Who is having empathy for the Saudi man in hospital?

 

(1) News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. Quoted in good faith.

One Response to “Boston—I will not join in”

  1. Tori Says:

    Agreed. Avoiding the onslaught of media coverage does not leave me uninformed. It gives my brain the ability to focus on things which impact me, and which I can impact, and it gives me the time to wait and get real information. It also keeps me from contributing further to “news” as media entertainment, which I am not intellectually supportive of, so I don’t want my clicks adding to their profits.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: