My family decided to take on a challenge during the month of May: no news, no social media, no TV. Why would we do such an outrageous thing you ask? Well, we were becoming consumed by negativity – Covid, election, politics, and a struggling business, to name a few of the negative forces that were consuming our thoughts and energy, suffocating us. And we wanted to test the theory that much of the negativity we were feeling was unnecessary, self-inflicted from exposing ourselves to a constant deluge of media that is fueled by fear, polarization, and whatever drives ad revenue. Only one way to find out.
So, for the month of May, we took control and turned off media.
No news of any kind. I enjoy technology and follow several tech blogs. Even those blogs were off limits because, unbelievably, iNerds and sportscasters are now qualified, professional political pundits. And all blogs are overflowing with ads anyway. We uninstalled news apps and feed readers from our phones to prevent notifications and the urge to take a peak at headlines during a brief moment of downtime.
No social media. Again, apps uninstalled. To be fair, we don't do much with social media. I don't even have social accounts, but we check in occassionally to keep up on local news and information. I imagine this one will be much more challenging for some people. You may even feel like the idea of cutting social out is like amputating a limb. You probably get tremors just thinking about it. If that's the case, ironically, you may need this challenge more than we did.
Finally, no TV. No cable, no movies, no streaming. Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, Disney+, etc. – all subscriptions canceled. We were already down to one streaming service a month on a rotating schedule, but we'll get more into that at a later date.
Sound daunting? It sounded daunting to us, too, going into it, even for people who rarely use social media, especially given that, like a goober, I picked the 31-day month of May for our 30-day challenge. We had to commit to a bonus day.
Seriously though, how were we going to stay current on the news? What if something important happened and we needed to know about it? Every day, Covid mandates and guidance are changing. How would we keep up? What about movie nights with the kids? What about getting together with friends to watch a game? What if we just need to mentally check out and watch a few episodes of our favorite show? Can we do this? Do we even want to do this? Is it worth it?
Ultimately, we took the plunge. It's only a month, and let's be honest – we can always pull the plug or adjust as we go.
What happened? Well, the experience can best be summarized by the fact that June 1 came and went, and I had absolutely no desire to check the news, reinstall social apps, or turn on the TV. June 2 came and went; same result. We're now well into June, and I haven't looked back.
I scanned news headlines once. Guess what? Everyone is still mad at everyone else, and the world is still ending. It was like entering a time machine back to April 30. I wonder if we took a month-old newspaper, changed the date to today, and sent it out, would anyone even notice?
Sometimes ignorance is bliss, and I don't mean we should all live under rocks. But there are simply not enough newsworthy events to fill countless networks 24/7. We heard about truly newsworthy events anyway because people tend to talk about the news. Actually, my ignorance proved a great conversation starter. People would bring up news that I was oblivious to, and I would say, "I haven't heard about that. Fill me in." People love to feel smart and informed, we had great conversations because I could ask follow-ups, and I got brief recaps of the most important news. Win-win.
We cheated on TV. We watched a couple movies with the kids during May. But we definitely cut back, and we found a better balance going forward.
But the biggest takeaways from the challenge weren't what we cut out, but what we added.
Instead of TV, we read. I read five books during May! And I'm not a fast reader by any stretch of the imagination. It's amazing how much time we really have. We all say we don't have time for so many things, but the reality is time isn't the problem. Our priorities are the problem. I had no idea I could read 60 books in a year! Think about how much you could learn reading 60 books a year about history, improving skills related to your job, managing your money, etc. Like Warren Buffett has said, knowledge compounds. It's part of the "Buffett Formula", as Shane Parrish describes it on his Farnam Street blog.
We spent more time with the kids. We played outside and dusted off a few board games on rainy or cold days.
A few times, I even sat in silence. What a strange, yet wonderful, experience. Initially, I found myself reaching for my phone when I had downtime, but by the end of the month, the urge was gone because there's nothing to check. I was even out a few times and grabbed for my phone to look something up, only to realize I left my phone at home.
Most importantly, what about the primary motivation to challenge ourselves to take a break from news, social, and TV? Was there noticeably less negativity in our house?
I don't know what it is about media today, but after a month going cold turkey, I'm convinced constant exposure to media is not healthy. Maybe it's the sensationalism, polarization, and negativity that drives viewership. Maybe it's focusing our attention on fringe events and making us worry about things that are unlikely to affect us and/or we have no control over. Maybe it's the ads and comparing ourselves to others that makes us feel inadequate and always wanting more.
Whatever it is, I don't miss it. My life is no worse without news, social media, and TV, and in a number of ways, life is markedly improved.
I encourage you to try it for yourself. Take the 30-day challenge – no news, social media, or TV for one month – and see if your outlook on life doesn't improve. I can't imagine anyone regretting it.
The only risk is if this really catches on. I won't have anyone to digest the news for me!