The background noise my television provided during the awful year that was 2020 was most often made up of news. We would take a break from the news channels when the CBS, NBC or ABC morning or evening news shows were running, just for the thrill of that refreshing change of sound and scenery.
Lately, I find it hilarious how much time the “news” shows have committed to the story that Facebook pushes content that will tap into users’ anger on its platform. And of course, the story is reported through interviews with those who are outraged by these revelations, and then that news is discussed ad nauseam by talking heads who are equally riled.
It’s an important story, but oh, the irony.
I often write about politics and government, and from a domestic policy perspective, nothing is more important in America right now than the deliberations in congress on President Joe Biden’s agenda. It is unnecessary to replay the latest episode of this saga here. And if you are unaware of where things stand with that drama, congratulations to you! You have found a way to avoid the relentless play by play of what has truly been one of the more predictable miniseries I’ve ever seen.
Seriously people, this is simply a political negotiation. Those of us who are devoted consumers of this type of news know exactly who the players are, and possibly as important, we know who the players aren’t. Let me try to get in on this drama myself a little for a moment and play the spoiler: The bills being debated right now will pass, largely in forms that unsurprisingly look like the framework that was released yesterday. There will be days or weeks of additional episodes in the series, but much like the movie, “Titanic,” don’t be surprised by how this one ends.
The recent episodes, excuse me, the recent coverage of the Biden agenda and Facebook Papers must be ratings boosters. Why else would they keep getting additional seasons?
I expect the tragic shooting that occurred last week on the set of the movie, “Rust,” will drive awareness and curiosity of the unfinished production that would have far exceeded the potential interest in the finished product. Due to the complicated and unfortunate death of the film’s cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, as a result of a gunshot fired by actor Alec Baldwin, it has taken its place at the top of the list of over-reported, and overly speculated story-shows for several days now. Again, it is an important story for a variety of reasons, just like the Biden and Facebook stories are.
But these stories are not the only things worth covering in detail, and in many cases it seems that many news outlets believe that rerunning slightly different versions of the trending stories is the most valued product they can deliver. And they are wrong.
In a 2019 Psychology Today article by Austin Perimutter, M.D., “How Negative News Distorts our Thinking,” the doctor discusses the term “availability bias,” also known as the “availability heuristic.” He explains it as the tendency to “overestimate the importance of the examples that immediately come to mind when considering a topic.” With the “background noise” example of my television news consumption of 2020, of course the main news stories that were on constant repeat for me dominated my mind away from that noise. For the most part, everyone in my family and social circles had a similar experience last year.
This is certainly part of 2020 that does not need to become the norm. We actually can do something about this if we want!
I have not had a session with Dr. Perimutter, but it would seem to me that the best medicine to combat the chronic condition of availability bias would be to intentionally become less available. We have been talking about “confirmation bias” for a long time in America now, and this condition is also discussed in the doctor’s article. But I have a prescription for us, as someone with absolutely no prescribing authority.
Take a week and watch your favorite news programming on TV half as much. Fill that time with something clearly designed to do nothing but entertain you, provoke an emotion, or make you think. You know, the reasons art exists.
Then evaluate how you feel.
If you don’t notice any improvement in your sleep, mood or relationships after that week, double the dose.
It’s worked miracles for me, and it has cost me absolutely nothing. Get well soon!