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Stop Reading the News

How to Cope with the Information Overload and Think More Clearly

By Rolf Dobelli
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Stop Reading the News by Rolf Dobelli

Stop Reading the News (2020) shows us how we can live a calmer, healthier, and more thoughtful life if we simply stop reading the news. By practicing what the author calls radical abstinence from the news media, we can rescue our minds from the overload of information, and focus on what actually matters in life.

Key idea 1 of 9

News attracted the author from an early age, and then took over his life.

It’s almost impossible to escape the news – whether that’s the minute-by-minute updates that flash across our phones, a cab driver’s radio, or the giant screens in an airport lounge. The news follows us everywhere.

In the author’s case, he actively sought out the news. Growing up in Lucerne, Switzerland in the seventies, the news came from the paperboy and on the radio early in the morning. Then, there was the TV news and current affairs shows in the evening. But this wasn’t enough for Rolf Dobelli – by the age of 17, he was thoroughly addicted to the news.

The key message here is: News attracted the author from an early age, and then took over his life.

The seventeen-year-old Dobelli spent every Saturday in the reading room at Lucerne’s library. There, he sat with the elderly men, in their old-fashioned horn-rimmed glasses and suits, as they leafed quietly through the weekend papers.

By doing this, he hoped he could someday be as worldly and sophisticated as they seemed. He wanted no part in the banalities and gossip of everyday life in Lucerne. He wanted to feel like a high-flying intellectual – what interested him was world-historical events: leaders shaking hands, faraway disasters, political unrest on the other side of the world.

Then, when Dobelli got his first job as a financial controller for Swissair, his newspaper reading increased exponentially. As he spent most of his time on a plane, he read all of the papers that the flight attendant brought round. And the ones he couldn’t read during the flight, he crammed into his briefcase and saved for later.

With the advent of widespread internet use in the 1990s, this habit spiraled out of control. His computer screensaver was a display of the newest headlines, which scrolled past just like on the screens in Times Square. He subscribed to newspapers’ daily newsletters and set up push notifications so he wouldn’t miss anything. In this way, he felt as if he were connected to every corner of the earth.

Then, one day, he suddenly noticed that he could no longer concentrate on books and longer articles. His mind gave up after just a few paragraphs without absorbing any of the content. And he began to suffer from anxiety. Dobelli realized that he must be suffering from information overload.

What had all this news consumption brought him? Was he any wiser now? Was he any happier? Could he think more clearly? The answer to all of these questions was a resounding No.

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