351 comments

The Low Information Diet

dbagThe big news today is that the politicians of the United States just bumbled themselves into a Government Shutdown.

Last night, a military friend of mine mentioned the impending doom to me, which is the first I had heard of the situation. Unfortunately that triggered a late night of sweaty reading on my part, catching up on the history of this predicament, cursing the bullshit and the rhetoric of the responsible members of congress, and generally being pissed off about things.  But after an uneasy sleep and a slightly groggy morning, I opened my shutters and found a clear blue sky with bright yellow sun, singing birds, and my lovely family running up to me to request hugs and breakfast. And thus, my plans for today do not include reading any more of the news.

If you’re surprised to hear that I knew nothing of the looming shutdown, and that I don’t read (or watch) the news at all, then you will get a lot from this article. Because I’m going to suggest that unless you work directly in the news media industry yourself, you too should be paying absolutely no attention to the news.

This is an unusual stance in this country, where the 24-hour news cycle has become common and 100 million office workers flop down in front of the television nightly to catch up on the day’s events. Political dramas, stock markets fluctuations, sports, local tragedies, weather, and of course an update on what is new in bikinis and celebrity gossip.


“As a citizen, it’s my duty to stay informed”,
one news watcher might say, while another quips,
“I gotta keep with up with my Packers, they got a real chance this year!”

“The markets are on a rollercoaster this year”,
Joe Trader might add,
“I need to be on the watch so I know when to sell!”

“It is all Bullshit”, is what Mr. Money Mustache says, “You need to get the News out of your life, right away, and for life.”

The reasons for this are plentiful, from the inherently sucky nature of news programming itself, to the spectacular life benefits of adopting a Low Information Diet in general. But let’s start with the news.

News programs are, with the exception of a few non-profit or publicly funded ones, commercial enterprises designed to turn and maximize profit. Many of them are owned by larger shareholder-owned corporations, most notably Rupert Murdoch’s News corp. The profit comes from advertising, and advertising revenue is maximized by pulling the largest audience, holding their attention for the longest possible time, and putting them into the mental state most conducive to purchasing the products of the advertisers (which turns out to be helplessness and vulnerability).

This is why the news always starts out with a sensationalist take on a topic of at least plausible national interest, takes a detour into truly horrific and depressing irrelevant tragedies (“Chinese boy’s eyes gouged out with spoon and left in field by unknown woman” is one that unfortunately crossed my screen when doing research for this article), then ends on an uplifting note with something like a defiant entrepreneur or a caring soup kitchen. An emotional roller-coaster ride every day of the week.

Now comes the interesting part. The “largest possible audience” is by definition biased towards the people who watch television the most. These are the struggling masses, the people with debt problems, the folks likely to bring a 3-year-old SUV down to the GMC dealer and trade it in for an even newer loan document. They are not comprised of 65% engineers, technology and finance workers, doctors, lawyers, and teachers like the readers of this blog. While news programming is an awful diet for their brains, it’s even worse for yours.

The news also completely fucks up the layperson’s perception of risk. The very fact that bad events are rare these days, makes them newsworthy. A bicyclist hit by a car. A school shooting or an abduction. A terrorist attack. These things are so uncommon, it is best to ignore the possibility of them when planning your own life. But with a sample size of over 300 million people in the US and 7 billion worldwide, unusual tragedies happen daily, and they end up on the news nightly.

Because of this phenomenon, I got almost 50 concerned emails about the recent Colorado floods.
“Is your family OK out there in Longmont? We are terrified for you!”
I was touched by the thought, but also tempted to write back,
“Are YOU OK? You seem to have been watching the news, which is much more dangerous than living in Colorado during this 500-year flood!”

The news focused on the damage: ripped out roads and flooded suburbs. The numbers tell a different story: less than 1% of homes damaged or destroyed, and a death toll of 8. About the same number of people die in the state’s car crashes every week, and staggering property damage is caused in the state’s almost-2000 car crashes per week. If the news were delivered on a basis of logic rather than sensationalism, it would proclaim “250 more car crashes today! Families mourn injuries and death, and yet pointless commuting and Car-Clown driving remains unchecked!”

While we can do nothing to prevent the freak rainstorms that cause floods*, we can certainly reduce the unnecessary driving that kills and impoverishes us all. And thus, wouldn’t reducing driving be a much more practical focus, if the news were really a program designed to help society?

All of which brings us nicely to the real point of this article: it’s not just the news that is the enemy. It’s all forms of irrelevant information**.

 As an unusually intelligent person on a quest to create the best life for yourself and your fellow humans, you have a big task ahead of you, and you’ll need all your brainpower to do it. And yet your intelligence, your time, and your attention span are all finite. So why would you ever squander it on anything that doesn’t help you advance your goals? You need to be ruthless in your quest for a cleaner and more powerful mind, and the better you do at this, the more you will prosper. Let’s look at a few examples from everyday life:

Meetings at Work: back in my corporate days, I used to sit in meeting rooms with up to 15 other people, with a conference telephone on the table squawking out the chatter of an additional 15 people who had dialed in from the San Jose office. Pointy-haired managers would quiz people on the minutiae of their individual status reports while the rest of us tried to hide the fact that we were falling asleep. Every mind in the meeting was becoming less focused, less productive, and less happy, due to the flood of completely irrelevant information. Meetings should be as short, focused, and small as possible. It is far better for a knowledge worker to miss some “key” information, than to end up flooded with too much.

Micromanagement: One of the less competent managers at work used to try to read every single software and hardware design specification produced by the entire 50-person department. “As a manager, I need to stay on top of the design details”, he told me. But he had it all backwards: because of this habit, he slowed down every meeting by second-guessing every design decision of every software engineer – most of whom were much more skilled than he. Let the smart people work at their own higher level while you focus on giving them what they need to do their jobs.

Email: As I write this, there are no email programs in sight. My phone’s mail application (and indeed every app on the phone) is permanently set to “no notifications”. Every email is a potential wormhole of distraction and mental fatigue. This is fun if you have nothing to do, but disastrous for people like you who are working on improving your life. So keep your email sessions defined, short, and focused, then completely close that Gmail tab (and erase the bookmark) so that logging in is a deliberate affair.

Facebook: Oh man.. don’t even get me started on Facebook. It’s like the news, but at a local level focused on the latest parenting problems, bowel movements, consumer indulgences, and forwarding of pointless memes and Youtube videos. From this point forward you may sign in to Facebook at most once per week. Make a grand appearance, read the updates from your best friends, drop a few compliments and jokes, then get the hell back out. Delete the app from your smartphone, change your password to a 12-digit alphanumeric string you have to look up on paper, and then log out from the web browser. Ahhhh.

I often tell people that the biggest benefit to early retirement has been “getting my own mind back”. Without the demands of 8 hours of software design every day, I’ve been amazed at the fun things I have had the energy to learn in these past 8 years. But a job really only takes about 50% of your mind. The other half is generally burned by email, television, Facebook, Reddit, video games, researching potential products and other unnecessary things. If you can eliminate these, you’re halfway to retirement already.

With this 50% downpayment on the most powerful asset of a free mind, you can then start getting other things done. You’ll be able to better organize your time, get a better job, learn skills, learn about happiness itself, get in shape, be less exhausted, and much more.

And so begins your real life – which will proceed nicely whether the government is currently shut down or not. Congratulations!

 

Addendum: Wow, this post is much more controversial than I expected and I’m taking some heat in the comments. I think most of the complaints come from the mistaken impression that I am promoting ignorance rather than efficiency. Following the daily news with the death tolls and pointless squabbles is very different from seeking to understand human society and world politics in general. And when you skip the sugar and carbs of the daily stuff, you free your mind up to accomplish much more than you otherwise would. As just one example, this blog has reached over four million people and 40 million page views, promoting the idea of lower consumption for the rich world. And I still cast my votes in every election and send the odd letter to a senator. Is this a higher or lower impact than me spending that time being “well-informed” watching or reading the daily news? Regardless of your goals, you will notice exactly the same effect: If you don’t think you can be a better citizen without daily or even weekly news, just do yourself a favor and try it for one week.

Also, the title for this post was shamelessly copied from a chapter in Tim Ferriss’ useful book The Four Hour Workweek.

 

* Although if you really think about it, reducing driving actually could reduce the incidence of floods, due to the effect of driving on climate change, and the effect of a warmer planet on the amount of atmospheric moisture and thus the intensity of storms.

** I should mention that while the news is a useless way to learn about the world, learning about the world itself is very useful. But this is best done by reading books – and maybe the odd scientific blog or journal or other periodical.  I do still read most of the Economist every week or two, for example. The facts about the world don’t change on a daily basis, so by focusing on these slower and more well-researched sources of information, you filter out the noise and end up with the stuff that’s really worth learning.

  • Willis Montgomery III October 1, 2013, 3:11 pm

    I switched over from NPR to Classical music. This morning I enjoyed Rachmaninoff No. 2. Sure beats hearing about the latest mass shooting or how [rich company name that externalizes environmental costs] stole from the pension fund and/or which CEO has the biggest house that is vacant the most days a year.

    Reply
  • Herr Handlebar October 1, 2013, 3:21 pm

    I’m a bit surprised nobody has mentioned the excellent book The Information Diet A Case for Conscious Consumption by Clay A. Johnson.

    “The modern human animal spends upwards of 11 hours out of every 24 in a state of constant consumption. Not eating, but gorging on information ceaselessly spewed from the screens and speakers we hold dear. Just as we have grown morbidly obese on sugar, fat, and flour—so, too, have we become gluttons for texts, instant messages, emails, RSS feeds, downloads, videos, status updates, and tweets.

    We’re all battling a storm of distractions, buffeted with notifications and tempted by tasty tidbits of information. And just as too much junk food can lead to obesity, too much junk information can lead to cluelessness. The Information Diet shows you how to thrive in this information glut—what to look for, what to avoid, and how to be selective. In the process, author Clay Johnson explains the role information has played throughout history, and why following his prescribed diet is essential for everyone who strives to be smart, productive, and sane.”

    It is an excellent tome that will refine the way you think about mass media. I’m certain it is available in a library near you.

    http://www.informationdiet.com/

    Reply
  • Mike October 1, 2013, 3:55 pm

    It makes sense. I find news and Facebook to be tedious and unrewarding, so I’m not afflicted by an addiction to those things, even though I do have a Facebook account and am up to date on the major headlines. Sports, on the other hand, are all kinds of awesome. I spend an obscene amount of time watching and reading about sports. I can’t fathom giving it up entirely, and even cutting back seems daunting.

    MMM, you’re not obligated by Canadian law to follow hockey?

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  • Jen October 1, 2013, 4:15 pm

    If news articles are irrelevant because they are published by corporations with shareholders, then why are books, which are also published by corporations with shareholders, a better source of information?

    Most books are not “well-researched” compared to news articles. Many books are written by amateurs. Some books by prominent people are ghostwritten. Books can be full of PR and edited to within an inch of their lives. The top books of 2013 according to Amazon include Shred: The Revolutionary Diet 6 Weeks 4 Inches 2 Sizes, and Fifty Shades of Grey. You can check the list for more examples of books that some would consider “noise”.

    If a consumer has to pick and choose their books, what’s wrong with picking and choosing their news sources?

    Reply
    • conchita October 8, 2013, 6:38 pm

      Thank you for your comment Jen. I wholeheartedly agree!

      support people-powered media.

      Reply
  • Grant October 1, 2013, 4:17 pm

    I just shared this on Facebook. The irony is not lost on me.

    I have been taking this approach for some time – mostly because the sensationalist nature of commercial news shits me. The fact that they take a spin on any factoid to make it the most polarising just to stir the pot insults my intelligence.

    I do think the title of this article is possibly wrong. Low “sensationalist editorial” diet is possibly more accurate – what the tabloid press is pumping out can hardly be called information.

    Reply
  • trf October 1, 2013, 4:24 pm

    But I learned about this excellent web site by reading the Washington Post . . .

    Reply
  • Debbie M October 1, 2013, 5:05 pm

    I’m pretty bad at keeping up with the news (as is being celebrated here)–I get most of my news from my friends on Facebook. (And this is how I keep up with friends in other cities.)

    Also, I sign petitions, so places that set up petitions keep me informed, too (in time to sign petitions, even). Argh, but they never let you opt out of non-petition e-mails, so it’s turned into a pretty big clog on my e-mail, but I don’t know what else to do (besides unsubscribe to groups that don’t focus on the issues most important to me).

    I fear that I won’t realize in time if it’s time to flee my country, like many people in Nazi Germany or people who looked Japanese before the US started throwing them in interment camps during WWII. No amount of savings or ingenuity makes it okay to be locked up and mistreated, even if you aren’t experimented on or gassed. Yes, that hardly ever happens, especially in Western countries. But if it does happen, I sure would like to be gone.

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  • rjack October 1, 2013, 5:30 pm

    “The news also completely fucks up the layperson’s perception of risk.”

    This is a really important point! The constant bombardment of bad news not only distorts a layperson’s perspective on risk, but his overall worldview. If I were an alien watching the news, I would conclude that:

    1) Humans are an extremely violent species.
    2) Most humans experience major natural disasters daily.
    3) A human only cares about himself.

    Anyway, I’m trying an experiment for the remainder of this week. I’m avoiding all forms of news and see how it “feels”.

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    • FrugalinGeorgia October 2, 2013, 4:17 pm

      They’d also think Lindsey Lohan and the Kardashians must be the rulers of the planet.

      Reply
      • Eileen October 3, 2013, 12:28 pm

        This reminded me of a time when my extended family was sitting around the table and my nephew was talking about his speech class. They had to draw a topic from a hat and give an impromptu speech on it. His topic was the Kardashians. My sister-in-law, in all seriousness, asked him “What is a Kardashian? Is that something from Star Trek?” She is kind of my hero now.

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  • Micro October 1, 2013, 5:35 pm

    I knew about the shutdown only because I do contract work for the federal government (one tends to pay attention as to whether or not they might need to show up for work). The thing that actually surprised me was how the markets went. Despite all the doom and gloom and doomsday by the news, the markets just kept ticking upwards. Investors didn’t give two licks that the government shut down. They just ignored the WWE style grandstanding and figured things would be moving along soon enough.

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  • Lance October 1, 2013, 6:12 pm

    The financial news is the worst. CNBC and Fox Business constantly try to over explain everything and help scare people into buying high and selling low. If you don’t hear about it though, chances are you wouldn’t even notice other than an occasional planned check up to make sure you’re meeting your goals.

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  • TH October 1, 2013, 6:27 pm

    It’s important to make a distinction between “news” and “TV news.” We all know that anything having to do with TV in general is useless. But reading newspapers and staying informed about their country are important for citizens of a democracy. We can’t just focus on our own lives and ignore the broader community. As they say, the bad guys win as long as the good guys do nothing.

    Obviously some news sources are better than others, and there’s no need to dump a huge amount of time on it, but we should not celebrate ignorance of current events.

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  • Eliot Rosewater October 1, 2013, 6:30 pm

    MMM, I can’t stand the news and was nodding my head in agreement, right up until you suggested that we should avoid “all forms of irrelevant information.” For me, watching Liverpool football club falls into the same category as spending 90 minutes looking at a sunset (observing the beauty of nature).

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  • Insourcelife October 1, 2013, 6:30 pm

    Yes, it’s irrelevant but only until it becomes relevant, for instance if you are one of the people who can’t go to work because of the gigantic fuck-up that we call “government”. I personally don’t watch the news, which is easy since we don’t have cable, but not everyone can shut the world out since a lot of what’s happening will affect them much more than say MMM’s family, which is a bit more insulated in its current position. They can all strive to become more insulated as well, no doubt, but can’t be as isolated in the process. However, I totally agree with the main theme of this post and wish more people would unplug more often. The 24/7 news networks will make your life miserable.

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  • Sconnie October 1, 2013, 6:31 pm

    First time commenter, long time reader. Thank you MMM.

    I, personally, find this article to hit home, with one exception. You see, I am from Wisconsin, and our passions are the Packers, beer, cheese, and brats (in that order). Watching sports is the only thing on tv that doesn’t leave me wanting to rant or slit my wrists (well, the Packers losing in the playoffs may be an exception). I’m not out there buying tickets or memorabilia, and I try to tune out the drama and the cheater stories. Besides the wasted time on the couch, I find being a passionate sports fan to be somewhat healthy. It promotes a sense of community and loyalty. Thoughts?

    Otherwise, I think you are spot on with this article. Thank you again. I look forward to every new post.

    Reply
  • DebtDerp October 1, 2013, 6:32 pm

    I’m going to have to somewhat disagree with you on this one MMM. While I agree that the pointless sensationalism of the media a la MSNBC, Fox and CNN is completely irrelevant and actually somewhat harmful, I also think that staying informed on current issues and understanding the ideological arguments one way or the other on solving major problems is worthwhile.

    Yes news stories about so and so’s celebrity baby, or a poor kid getting his eyes gouged out is not relevant at all and I pay no attention to them. However, I think you bring it to far to the extreme when you say “You need to get the News out of your life, right away, and for life.” And in a comment above you say that you can get important news from your friends, books, and the occasional magazine.

    I, for one, find some form of value in understanding the issues that are affecting our world today. I think it’s important for me to have an informed opinion on whether I agree with, recently, the President’s assertion that our nation should bomb Syria, or each side’s reasoning behind today’s partial shutdown of the Government. I want to understand the environmental implications of the nuclear reactor meltdown that appears to be getting worse at Fukushima and the geo-political ramifications of the sectarian violence occurring in Iraq. I’m concerned about the humanitarian consequences of conflicts in places like Darfur. These issues are too fresh and ever-changing to find complete information on in a book or periodical. Also, I would argue, it makes more sense to read a few well researched articles from a reputable news source than a three hundred page book for every relevant story.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think this is exactly the type of news you had in mind when you said “It is all bullshit” but it still got lumped in there.

    I guess I just don’t see it as a waste of my time to stay informed on these issues. Granted, I try not to let some of the more divisive issues or the opinions of another person piss me off. Still, staying current on the news keeps me aware of the issues facing the world today, helps to keep me grounded, informs some of the decisions I make, and allows me to form an opinion on current topics that I can back up.

    On another note, you can totally fault me for tracking stories on a handful of sports teams I shamelessly follow. After all, my hometown Soccer team is four games away from their first playoff berth! ;)

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    • Jackie October 2, 2013, 5:33 am

      How accurate is all that information anyway? It IS like gossip (and we humans love gossip, until it’s about us!)…..it’s amazing how much the “facts” change as time goes on. Better to wait and see what ” the other side” of the story is. Educating ourselves is a whole different process than than being spoon fed half truths. The other bee in my bonnet is….How come “those” stories for day? Who decided “those” stories were soooo important. I can guarantee you that for every child hurt in China there are JUST as many disgusting acts happening all over the world. If they are cherry picking their news with sensational stories about kids,etc., I believe they are doing the same thing with “real and valid” news. It’s about their bottom line….

      Reply
  • Patrick October 1, 2013, 6:37 pm

    Love it! Too true. In additional to books I would add informative financial blogs.

    Also,
    NPR = No Problem unReported

    Reply
  • conchita October 1, 2013, 6:53 pm

    Hi MMM! I was at your ottawa party and wish we could have chatted about this in person. (I was feeling a bit shy to say hello, but my family did have an EXCELLENT time). I agree with you on a lot of things esp re living a frugal yet so wholly satisfying lifestyle. And I agree with many points in this post, but I think what you are referring to is the bullshit corporate media which feeds fear and inane celebrity details to the masses, without proper context or even truth. Nothing irks me more than picking up the free commuter “newspapers” with all their ridiculous headlines.
    On the other hand, I’m all for for independent, citizen-powered news to steal the AVAAZ slogan. BTW, I digress, but how awesome is AVAAZ? I find that sites like democracynow are great. Can anyone with any fibre of a moral compass truly say that Amy Goodman is not the most kick ass journalist ever? I also find that articles in zmag/znet are more like essays – with proper context, citations and historical documentation. I’ll put a plug in for the real news network too which doesn’t accept any government or business funding. I think it is important to be concerned, involved citizens, and I agree with you that reading books is very important – but I’ve read some kick ass analysis on current affairs on these alternative media sites which inform my opinions and made me savvyer (at the risk of sounding smug) at how the world runs and how we can try to make it better.

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  • Ron October 1, 2013, 7:03 pm

    This is priceless, MMM and Rush Limbaugh actually agree on something – Rush is always telling his listeners to turn off the news and relax, they can get all the news they need from his program… He also coined the phrase “low information voter”, to describe those that vote based on sound bites from the lame stream media…hmmm?

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  • Tyler October 1, 2013, 7:09 pm

    The irony is that I found this article while surfing the information highway today…

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  • mike October 1, 2013, 7:34 pm

    So, IOW, you’re trying to tell me this is not important news?

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  • Gerard October 1, 2013, 7:34 pm

    I really noticed how irrelevant most of the daily news was after we moved away from Ottawa. All these sports-style stories covering the ups and downs of the Canadian federal government and the opposition parties: New poll results! Who’s going to be in the cabinet shuffle? Whose expense account is being audited? And that was the *smart* station. The rest of the news was stuff like whether some rich guy’s wife was going to dye her poodle to match her wig (I think it was her actual poodle, not a euphemism). None of it mattered to anybody more than 20 miles from Parliament.
    That said, there are things I want to know. Is any one huge corporation being especially evil, to the environment or its workers or its customers? Who’s financing which politician? Which ridiculous food health and safety claims should I believe? But most news media can’t cover those stories in a useful way, because it’s expensive and it pisses off rich and powerful people. I guess I’ll have to take MMM’s advice and start reading books.

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  • Chris October 1, 2013, 8:19 pm

    I like the idea of managing information inflow. I recently read a comment on this topic that read like: “Comaparision is the thief of joy, the more disconnected I become, the happier I am (apropos social media).”

    There’s a balance to be had. There is quality content out there, notably, NPR. I consistently walk away from a lunch break, with NPR in the background, feeling well informed and satisfied with the quality of the content (lack of pop culture bullshit). The goal should be to manage how often we have our noses pointed at a computer/phone vs pointed at the world around us.

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  • Jason P October 1, 2013, 8:21 pm

    Is it bad that I took this article and posted it on Facebook?

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  • Jay P October 1, 2013, 8:43 pm

    Excellent article! I would also add that most of the programming is NOT news, its politically based debate around current events! You would be surprised how many people watch the afternoon cable chat shows believing that they are watching news programming. If they have 3 to 5 talking heads debating a politcal issue – its NEVER news!

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    • MoneyAhoy October 5, 2013, 7:37 am

      Exactly! More and more it is just opinion spouting!

      Reply
  • EB in AZ October 1, 2013, 9:38 pm

    Even though I haven’t broken free of a pretty intense news habit, I basically agree with what MMM says here. I used to use the line about “If you don’t follow the news, how will you know who to vote for?” but then one day I realized that there is absolutely no need for me to follow day-to-day developments in order to know who to vote for. I can tell you that my vote in the next election would be absolutely no different whether I followed the news of the shut-down or not. (Although my daughter is out of work at the moment, a seasonal biology project that had two weeks left to run dropped unfinished, because of the shut-down.)

    But I think it is one thing to say that we don’t all need to be following the news of the shutdown, and another thing entirely to suggest, as a couple of commenters do, that the reason the shut-down is irrelevant is “Who needs the government anyway?” I believe that even admirably self-reliant Mustachians derive all kinds of benefits from having a functioning government, as much as we might take them for granted.

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    • Melissa Taylor October 3, 2013, 8:34 am

      For the longest time we used our tv only to play pandora and youtube video’s. We finally did ourselves a service and got rid of the thing and replaced it with fancy speakers. Everyone gives us a hard time about it. They also give us a hard time about reusing pickle bottles as perfectly good drinking glasses. What is right for one person may not be suitable for another. Anger and judgement is not necessary.

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      • Carolina October 5, 2013, 7:35 am

        Melissa,

        You’re doing great. You just need new friends;).

        Reply
  • CDP45 October 1, 2013, 10:18 pm

    Thank you so much for having the courage to sacrifice your time and put up with all the haters, I feel inspired now to break my news addiction, which it is. It’s the feeling of trying to have control and avoid all this bad stuff, but the truth is there isn’t that much of it. Quite the opposite actually with your message, you’re a prophet from the land of reality and reason, outside the cave and able to see the puppets and showing us how prosperous and wonderful our lives can be. Thank you for your balls, I thank you and your balls for continuing to fight!

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  • Matt October 1, 2013, 10:48 pm

    Great post, I agree fully. In fact this is something that I have been thinking about a lot recently, since I am a full-fledged news junkie. I sometimes flatter myself that I really have my shit together, since I have never even owned a TV, but when I’m being honest I have to admit that spending hours reading news and opinion pieces online, as I do, is every bit as useless and stupid as watching TV. Most importantly, it keeps me from all the various self-improvement plans that I have. I also notice that it has reduced my attention span, so that I can barely finish a long article without getting distracted. And as for becoming an informed citizen, a good ninety-five percent of what I read online is useless, since it either is useless information about the crisis du jour, partisan political hyperventilating, or similar nonsense.
    A while ago I took up the Mr. MM challenge to cut back to a couple beers a week and so now I think I might be ready for something even more difficult–trying to wean myself off the news, except for maybe a weekly reading of the Economist. Thanks for kicking me in the ass to get started on this one!

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  • Cornelius Birdsong October 1, 2013, 11:10 pm

    I lurk around your blog sometimes, and I generally think you have some pretty useful advice and/or encouragement to offer. Even if that advice can occasionally veer into a kind of messianic and chipper cult-leader vibe, I generally get the sense that your motives are about altruistic as one could reasonably hope for Some Financial Blogger I’m Reading on the Internet. Perhaps even more so.

    So I really do thank and commend you for that. I get the sense that even though you spend plenty of space talking about the MMM family and lifestyle et al, you also give a shit about other human beings on this planet. It comes through in your genial and optimistic writing voice, and I think it speaks well of you as a person.

    All that said, I found this post really depressing. More than the post itself, something that really got me down, and ultimately motivated me chime in here, was the chirpy dittos in the first few comments (sorry Emily A, no hard feelings). Ugh. So many people proudly tuning out political noise. I can appreciate why y’all do, but it made me really sad.

    Look, I get it. The political discourse that is made most easily available to Americans is often highly inane. A lot of bullshit and advertising space is used to make us care about things we have little power over, in a way that often offers nothing but rage and angina.

    I do think it’s really important to be able to disengage and take a step back from something, whether it be a bad relationship or some TV show about meth that everybody keeps talking about, or yes, a highly toxic and vacuous cable news culture that spends a lot of energy to promote itself as Something Important to Care About For The Next 8 Hours.

    But there’s a creeping sort of anti-intellectualism, or perhaps a certain pride-in-ignorance vibe here that just really skeeves me out. I think there is a place for some middle ground in this debate. I think that while you shouldn’t spend hours every day watching cable news, neither should you spend the 15-20 minutes educating yourself before a biennial election that Louis October suggests above. Sorry Louis, but I think that’s a F^&%ing terrible idea for our country.

    The Voting Rights Act didn’t happen through disengagement. The Taft-Hartley Act didn’t happen because a bunch of people started urban farms and retired early. These are real things that happened through a messy, complex, often corrupt, and almost always frustrating and imperfect system. Hell, going to your local school board meetings and writing actual letters to your state representatives probably does more for your own lives than voting for a president through an electoral college does.

    Even though all the people reading this blog might not agree with my politics or even live in the USA, I encourage y’all to learn and talk and CARE about the way that our respective political structures are run. The learning is super important. Hell, get your early retirement on if you want — start your goat farm, but then RUN FOR OFFICE. I don’t care if you’re as progressive as my Marxist ass or not, I just want you to engage with the (still kind of democratic!) system is our State on a basic level. As long as you do that, and remember to remember that other human beings are human beings just like you, we might just make it out of this mess alive (just kidding, we’re all going to die, but maybe we can fix our public education system first).

    Look, I know that this stuff can be messy and awful and selfish and stupid. I used to live in California; I can appreciate the “none of us are as dumb as all of us” vibe of politics plenty. But that can also be a cop-out. I challenge all of you to think about the very real ways that a focus on “financial independence” can also lead to an “I got mine” vibe. That can lead to a kind of political disengagement that can be (is?) really poisonous on a large scale.

    Sorry for the long screed. I do care about this stuff, I’m not sorry for it, and I wish more of y’all would too.

    Reply
    • phred October 4, 2013, 11:04 am

      Why spend more than a day educating yourself about an upcoming election? If you start the process too early, you’ve wasted time and energy on candiates that don’t even make it to the final ballot — two such examples being Hilary and Ron Paul.
      And, all too frequently, pre-election promises rarely come reality once the winner takes office. If you had really wished to become informed about, for instance, our current Prez, you’d have demanded to see the actual birth certificate, viewed his actual college transcripts, gone to Indonesia (?) to spend time talking to his former neighbors, gone through old family photo albums, and stayed with him in his house for a couple of weeks to see how he handles stress. Obviously, you’ve done none of this, So, how can you proclaim better informed? Just because you read something that appeals to you?
      Intellectualism implies careful and thoughtful study. You won’t get this on any broadcast news which appeals to the emotions rather than to the mind. If it bleeds, it leads! The news on public television is frequently as bad with its chronic appeal to the liberal mindset. If Public Television News ever rejoiced that someone successfully defended themselves with a handgun I would probably need CPR.
      One of the successes of the American way of life, up to now, is that we could basically ignore our government while we went about self-actualization and personal achievement. Of course with so many now feeding off the government teat, it seems our psyche of forthright individualism is giving way to the mediocrity of the hive.
      As I approach financialindependence, I find myself doing more and more in community betterment — not by talking it to death, but by going out and doing it. If I had approached this as a politician, most of my time would’ve been spent in meetings and “studies”.
      Want to be truly informed? Then you’ve got to spend time listening to the opposition elsewhere. How many here tune in to Al Jazeera on a weekly basis? How many buy a homeless viewpoint newspaper from a homeless person? Actually go to where you are afraid to go and talk to the people. Don’t get your news filtered through “professionals”.

      Reply
  • Yvonne October 1, 2013, 11:17 pm

    Not one to join in the mass commentary, I find myself obligated to say thanks for this article. I have been intentionally ‘media-challenged’ my entire adult life, choosing to fill my mind with more relevant information and not the mass sensationalistic crap found in mainstream media. Few folks share my perspective on this, so it’s always nice to hear from like-minded folks. Love your content – thanks for putting it out there!

    Reply
  • Pretired Nick October 1, 2013, 11:27 pm

    Totally agree, MMM, but I have to admit I don’t practice all of these good habits. Only thing I’d add is that if you actually understand the mechanisms of government, then it doesn’t take much time or information input at all to understand what is going on. If you’re mystified by all these goings-on and hate everything about politics in general, you’re going to have to do a lot more work at each crisis point to figure out if it’s a serious thing or not. Too bad our schools are terrible at teaching civics in this country.

    Reply
  • Cornelius Birdsong October 2, 2013, 12:18 am

    MMM,
    I just read your addendum, and I think you did a decent job of being even-minded and equivocal there. Good on you for that, but I still can’t get down with the “you too should be paying absolutely no attention to the news” line that you put in bold at the end of the second paragraph. It does kind of… catch the eye that way. I still can’t shake the vibe of anti-intellectualism there, and you ultimately don’t do much to dissuade that.

    “As just one example, this blog has reached over four million people and 40 million page views, promoting the idea of lower consumption for the rich world. And I still cast my votes in every election and send the odd letter to a senator”

    Look, it’s great that you send the odd letter to your senator. If you’re still in CO, then hell, Mark Udall is probably one of the best guys you could send a letter to IMHO. Maybe your blog does promote the positive good of anti-consumerism to the millions of people who read it. That’s great and all, but if you have all these millions of devoted readers, then goddamit, you should run for public office! You’re practically the 21st century version of Jefferson’s Republican Farmer!

    If you have all these millions of readers, doesn’t that come with some responsibility? Spider Man anybody? We should ALL be writing letters to our senators. But with your millions of readers, maybe you can aspire towards more than just a 21st century individualist thrift ethos, knawhaimean?

    So many of the projects you devote your time to are things like fixing up your own house, your own car, garden, etc. These things are really important, and I don’t want to demean their value, but sometimes I wish you spent a bit more time talking about more communal aspects of life.

    I’m sorry if this sounds like I’m being a negative Kathy here. I really do think that you do a lot of great stuff, and I can’t really begrudge anybody for loving their family and wanting the best for them. The “more communal aspects of life” are often frustrating and banal, and might not make for good blogging. It’s hard. I know this. Lord knows I’m not perfect at communicating this stuff either. I’m not trying to sh*t on your overall message here, because I think you have a point, it’s just that sometimes I wish you could be a little less individualistic and doctrinaire in your communiques.

    Still, I suppose I’m glad that you’re doing these blogs. Maybe I’m expecting too much. Maybe I’m just projecting. I do want to give you a kudos for doing what you do, but I guess my appreciation is tempered with the idea that you could aim higher, or broader.

    So thanks, and sorry, and cheers

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 2, 2013, 7:25 am

      Cornelius, I think we just have different opinions on the relative power of writing a blog like this versus starting a career in politics. I believe this has the potential to be much more useful to society.. AND it is compatible with actually having a life on the side.

      Remember, I’m a family man who quit working to raise a son. I won’t even accept a job it it keeps me busy after 4PM and I laugh with incredulity at the telephone if somebody dares to try to call me at an uncivilized hour like 8:50AM. Besides having no interest in the meat-and-potatoes of politics, I’m also not nearly dedicated enough to make a good candidate. Let’s let each human stick with their own vocational interests here.

      Reply
  • ael October 2, 2013, 12:57 am

    Mostly I agree with MMM. We haven’t routinely watched TV for 20 years or more, but I do find it compelling to follow many themes on the internet including this blog. Perhaps James Madison stated my bias best, “A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce, or a tragedy, or perhaps both.”

    Reply
  • MrMonkeyMoustache October 2, 2013, 2:36 am

    An excellent post – the best in a long time. I watch too much news and spend too much time being distracted on the internet. I can start out trying to find out ways of building something and end up on stupid interior design websites! A few weeks back I removed my work email accounts from my home pc and mobile phone. It has certainly reduced the overspill of work stress into my home life. If it’s really, really important they can call me. I may answer my phone, I may not – I’m not getting paid to work from home.

    My one quarrel with your post is that in the past you’ve made a point about how you can follow your principles with this blog because you are FI. I therefore find it somewhat hypocritical that you have “Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail”, “Notify me of new posts by email”, facebook and twitter links. Of course they are optional, but if you really feel that such notifications/websites are so detrimental to lifestyle, why be part of the problem?

    Reply
    • CincyCat October 2, 2013, 10:38 am

      I did not take his “notifications” advice to mean signing up for facebook feeds or email updates, since you can control the frequency that you check these things. I took it to mean those dumb apps on your phone that ding every time someone “likes” your post on facebook. It is annoying in the extreme (not to mention distracting), especially if you are trying to have an actual in-person conversation with someone whose phone is dinging every 5 seconds.

      Reply
  • Mike October 2, 2013, 4:02 am

    Excellent post and I wholeheartedly agree.

    For a UK perspective, most of the tv news is drivel, except this of course:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3BO6GP9NMY&feature=player_embedded

    Most newspapers are opinionated nonsense although I find the Financial Times is one of the few papers that gives a ‘grown up’ view of the news.

    If you really need to find out about the news, buy ‘The Week’ instead.

    Reply
  • George_PA October 2, 2013, 5:17 am

    I agree with your points.

    One thing you should have done though is give credit to Tim Ferris in your article and with a cited reference so that fellow Mustachians could read the original source if they wanted to. You basically copied an entire chapter from 4HWW, that is also titled “The low Information Diet”.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 2, 2013, 7:32 am

      Thanks George, I had mentioned that in a paragraph that later got deleted. So I added it at the end of the post. Tim definitely deserves the credit for the title. The concept itself is an old classic one that keeps popping up through the ages (see the Thoreau comments), but posts like this are often about re-preaching the good wisdom of the olden days.

      Reply
  • ahutch8763 October 2, 2013, 5:20 am

    I agree with the central premise of this article about avoiding too much news and especially not using facebook. I have been off facebook for years. However, I disagree that the government shutdown should be ignored. It may not have effected your life yesterday, but if it continues then it certainly will eventually effect most americans negatively. In particular, if this standoff continues until the government defaults on its debt, this will send a shock wave through all financial markets, which is one of the core foundations of an early retirement. In addition, the particular issue they are fighting about is obamacare, which allows self-employed or early retirees to affordably decouple employment with having health insurance.

    I’m not a political person by nature but the government shutdown has enraged me. I am a federal contractor that works at the Navy yard and cannot believe that they shut down the government and sent home people that are still recovering from the massacre of 12 innocent people. I actually felt that this incident was not covered enough by the national media and was largely forgotten in 4 days.

    Reply
  • Plex October 2, 2013, 6:28 am

    This is the same concept as respecting the cumulative effects of small things, only in reverse. In addition to marveling at the huge effect of saving $10/day, we should also marvel at the huge loss of wasting 10 minutes/day. Any given 30-second news clip isn’t so bad. But taken all together, they prevent you from reading long-form articles and books, which are a superior medium for explaining difficult concepts or making a nuanced argument. But 30-second chunks are more “convenient” and we don’t miss the things we don’t read.

    I confess I do check football scores for exactly one team, the one my father cares about, so I can talk about something he enjoys every Sunday.

    Reply
  • Judi October 2, 2013, 6:46 am

    I agree to an extent but not fully with this article. I never watch TV news because it sucks, but I do listen to NPR mostly for the science news and book recommendations. I also like to read books and articles about things that aren’t related to my career and direct goals because I like to keep my mind flexible. You never know what information you may learn that doesn’t directly pertain to your immediate goals but may allow you to come up with a creative solution to something somewhere down the road.

    I also think spending a little time examining the political landscape in an effort to understand what is going on is a good exercise in critical thinking. A lot of political commentary is just masturbation, people just trying to identify with a group of people even at the expense of their own free thought and values.

    I can’t really put my finger on what annoyed me about this article…maybe it is the thought of keeping deliberately ignorant on something when you have an opportunity not to be . That goes against MY values.

    Reply
  • Joe October 2, 2013, 7:18 am

    I think where alot of people get it wrong is they immediately correlate news consumption with “being informed”. There is also this much more primitive way to hear what is going on. It’s called conversation. I rarely watch news, but it is amazing how I still know what is going on just by having conversations with other human beings.

    Reply
  • Matt Becker October 2, 2013, 7:35 am

    I have to say that I think the spirit behind this is spot on. I rarely follow the news, mostly because as you say almost none of it has any relevance to what I’m trying to accomplish in life. There are always specific things that can happen that will affect you, and in those moments it’s worthwhile to pay attention. But on the whole the daily news just doesn’t have any import in my life and for that reason I am often “uninformed” on the current happenings. I find my life to be much more enjoyable and focused as a result.

    Reply
  • Danny October 2, 2013, 8:55 am

    Don’t you mean the rhetoric of the IR-responsible members of congress? Zing. (Hope this joke hasn’t been made yet in the comments section.)

    On one hand, I agree that mainstream media news is a joke which only confuses and arms people with the illusion of knowledge. On the other hand, I think it’s crucial that at least *some people* know what’s going on, and as an educated and intelligent human being you have the responsibility of giving back to the world by trying to understand it.

    The nightly news is a ghastly joke. But you have the responsibility to read longform articles in quality publications like The Atlantic or The Economist. You have the responsibility to read history books and books on economics. Those intellectual tools will help you peer through the nonsense and hopefully do a small part to dispel it.

    Without a citizenry that at least attempts to educate itself, we’re flying blind. Help out your country by arming yourself with knowledge.

    Reply
  • Doug October 2, 2013, 9:13 am

    I personally take the middle of the road approach, paying some attention to the news but not worrying about it. I read an article in the paper about how this government shutdown could affect Canada. Meanwhile, just like in MMM’s home town, it’s a gorgeous sunny day in Southwestern Ontario and after I sign off here I’m going outside. I don’t worry about this event at all, if it doesn’t shake up the stock markets I’ll just go merrily about my business and do absolutely nothing at all. If it does shake up the markets I may scoop up more good dividend paying investments at fire sale prices.

    On the subject of worrying about what you see or read in the news, here’s a way to look at worrying in general. Imagine a large 100,000 HP diesel engine on a ship, running far above the speed where the tachometer redlines. It consumes a lot of fuel, makes a lot of noise, generates a lot of exhaust, and gets a lot of wear and tear but the output shaft is spinning free not connected to anything. A lot of effort goes in, with a lot of undesirable side effects, but absolutely NOTHING useful whatsoever comes out.

    Reply
  • WageSlave October 2, 2013, 9:25 am

    A college friend of mine once made the comment, “All a TV show has to do is induce some emotion in the viewer. It doesn’t matter what the emotion is—anger, laughter, sadness, joy—as long as it just makes you *feel* just a little.”

    At the time, it came across as somewhat of an offhand remark, but it really made an impression on me (that was over a decade ago and I still think about it). News media (at least on TV) isn’t all that different from any other programming, “reality” shows or sitcoms or dramas or whatever. The meta-formula is minimal intellectual stimulation, and just enough low-grade emotional content to keep you coming back. As another commenter suggested, TV has a lot of similarities with drugs.

    From a socio-economic-philosophic perspective, how do you structure things to support an “ideal” news media system? A free market system leads to what we have now, a veil for selling advertising. Government-sponsored media is too easily corrupted into a political propaganda machine. Maybe this is an argument for something like a “citizens income”?

    A similarly hard philosophical problem is the selection of political leaders. My opinion is that the personalities who go into (at least high-level, “famous” politics) are not necessarily the best suited to be actual leaders. IOW, the skills you need to win an election are not necessarily the same as those needed to understand the needs of the state and to direct and support the electorate. Someone might be a great political leader, but not have the “charm” to actually get elected; likewise, someone may be all charisma, but lack any true leadership skills.

    Reply
  • Ottawa October 2, 2013, 9:26 am

    I agree totally MMM. In addition, to further bolster the notion that information should not be unquestioningly/voraciously consumed, I’d be interested in data (formal studies) that demonstrate the following:

    A) Factual correctness of news media (probably varies by source)

    B) Reporting completeness (factually correct, yet incomplete reporting, can often convey at best unbalanced information, at worst totally incorrect)

    I’m sure anecdotally we can all add a little to this picture. I for one have seen over and over the reporting of crime news/facts which is totally inconsistent with the known facts held by the actual case investigators.

    So, in summary, no matter where you ingest news from (TV, Radio, Newspaper, Internet, friends etc) take it with a box of salt. It is likely incorrect relative to the ground truth of the matter (if it is not…how would you know?).

    What MMM is advocating (I think) is to draw your own information about the world ideally through your own first hand experience, or someone who is an expert* in an area you want to learn about!

    * expert does not mean they must necessarily be published/peer reviewed. They could be someone you know/trust who knows more about you in some area.

    Reply
  • TheAnimal October 2, 2013, 9:26 am

    Spot on Mr. Money! One of your best articles yet. I have not read the other comments yet but I have prided myself over the years in not concerning myself with other’s affairs. It leads to a lot less clutter in the mind like you stated. Also, I’m a big believer in not having a Facebook or Twitter, they are simply an information overload that is unecessary and a huge waste of time. If you actually care about someone then you can speak with them in real life rather than virtual cyberspace

    As a student, I walked into one of my classes yesterday and heard someone make a comment about the government shutdown. A few weeks ago on one of your posts I read someone’s comment about their concern of the flood in Longmont. In both cases, I had no idea what each person was talking about but I can tell you IMO i am better for it.

    To quote one of my idols, Dick Proenneke
    “News never changes much. It’s just the same things happening to different people. I would reather experience things happening to me than read about them happening to others. I am my own newspaper and my own radio. I honestly don’t believe that man was meant to know everything going on in the world, all at the same time. A man turns on the TV and all those commentators bombard him with the local, the national and the international news. The newspapers do the same thing, and the poor guy with all the immediate problems of his own life is burdened with those of the whole world.”

    Reply
  • crazyworld October 2, 2013, 9:29 am

    Absolutely agree with you 100%!! I catch the occasional NPR, read the Sunday NYT, other magazines, blogs or articles from time to time. I should cut back facebook – what a time suck. But I am plenty informed with this much media engagement.

    Reply
  • Leslie October 2, 2013, 9:53 am

    I find out about interesting books to check out from the library by listening to Fresh Air on NPR.

    Reply
  • CincyCat October 2, 2013, 10:29 am

    Bravo! This is what I’ve been preaching for years. There IS such a thing as too much information. When I mentioned that I don’t watch the news to a friend, she was flabbergasted, wondering what I would do if something “bad” was happening in my neighborhood, like a terrorist attack. Seriously? A terrorist attack? I probably have a better chance of winning the state lottery every single month for a year than actually having a terrorist attack my house, yet this was her (completely serious) rationale for why it is important to watch the news multiple times a day.

    The only thing I remotely do any research on is candidates & issues that will be on my ballot in the next election. I do NOT vote party lines (seriously, that is really dumb), but I will take a couple of hours, go out to the secretary of state website and other politically neutral sources (hint: the media are not neutral), and read the text of every issue, and research every candidate. I then draw up my own notes on who & what I plan to vote for. Done. And, I didn’t have to subject myself to Wolf Blitzer & Friends every evening for a year spoon feeding me who I “should” be voting for.

    Reply
  • SS October 2, 2013, 10:33 am

    Nice article! I have been on low information diet now about 4 months. Meaning I read only local news paper once in a week (“weekend edition”). On my browser I installed website blocker and blocked all my most visited news sites. And i was surprised how automated my news reading was as that blocker popped out every now and then at the beginning. But now I don’t notice that and what is best I don’t miss those news at all. And I don’t watch TV news either.

    Reply
  • John S October 2, 2013, 10:57 am

    I’d go further than this. The odds that your vote will decide an election are absurdly low–lower than the odds that you’ll die on your way to the polling place. So even assuming 100% accuracy in your judgments of good vs. bad politicians, and very, very large differences in the quality of the outcomes for good vs. bad politicians, the amount of good you can expect to do by voting is, in the end, absurdly low.

    Compare that to the amount of good you can do in your everyday life, and it isn’t even close. If you want to have a positive impact on the world, “voting correctly” comes pretty close to dead last. You could read to your son, which would bring joy and great memories to someone. You could donate to charity, which would measurably improve someone’s life. You could volunteer your time, using your own skills to help out people who are less fortunate. Even just going to work helps the world–work produces things which the buyer must value at more than your wage, since otherwise they wouldn’t pay you.

    Many of these things have the added benefit of improving *your* life as well, whereas getting obsessed with politics ends up (in my experience) reinforcing the idea that I Am Not In Control Of My Own Life–a really unhealthy attitude. Everywhere you look, you start to see ways the government could make your life better–but doesn’t. Damn them! I would be so happy, if only Other People would start voting for the right people. I reject that philosophy, because it encourages me to worry about things I can’t change instead of working at things I can.

    Reply

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