Information Overload; or, How To Watch The News

I was in a local boat and tackle shop recently, shooting the breeze with the always-friendly staff there when we got on the subject of current world events. 

Somebody mentioned that they’d seen something disturbing on the news, prompting one of the ladies there to comment, “I don’t watch the news anymore, it upsets me too much.”

One of the guys there admonished her, saying, “How can you not want to know what’s going on in the world!?” 

“I know what’s going on in the world,” she lamented. “It only takes about 15 minutes of watching the news to comprehend that – but there’s not a lot I can do about most of it and I don’t need to be bombarded with it 24 hours a day.”

I listened, but didn’t offer any sage advice because, well, I just didn’t have any. I saw logic in both points of view. I guess you could say I strongly agree with both sides of the issue.

So with that fence-riding attitude I gave the issue some thought and I think I’ve come up with a few potential solutions.

I suspect that this is a phenomenon that plagues many people--this over-abundance of news and opinion from a variety of electronic sources such as TV, online, social networks, etc. So with the assumption that Week-Ender readers might find this topic worthy of comment, here I go.

I surmise that the source of frustration is not so much seeing the news, but the realization that there’s not a whole lot that most individuals can really to do impact the outcome of the world events portrayed there. 

We would all like to end wars, promote peace among people, cure illness, feed the children and generally improve the lives of all people everywhere; but the reality is that with the exception of those favored-few who hold high and mighty positions, most of us average guys and gals really have a fairly limited scope of influence--more on that later.

So, never wanting to present a problem without offering potential solutions, here’s a few thoughts and ideas I have.

I think 24-hour news needs to go away. I (vaguely) recall those distant days (geezing here) when there were only three networks and the nightly news came on at 5 or 6 p.m. for 30 minutes or an hour, then it was prime-time entertainment. 

I realize those days are gone forever, but that doesn’t mean that each of us can’t exercise our prerogative and “just say no” to assaulting our senses by watching the same news, regurgitated by different pundits, many who now present the news more for entertainment value than for actual dissemination of pertinent information.

I generally agree with the lady who said 15 minutes is sufficient news time; I think maybe an hour is more realistic, to ensure you have time to surf the three or four main news channels to get a rounded view. Regardless of the time, I think if we set a time limit on ourselves, we would be informed, but not harassed. 

I also think it would be in the best interest of health and welfare if we try to not take any of the news personally. Even though the topic may coincide with your race, creed or culture, that doesn’t mean it is directed at you personally.

Along those lines, I think it would also be smart to go into a Zen state of mind prior to turning the news on. Relax, breath, count to ten before you react to anything. Try to reach a balanced state of mind, prepared to hear all sides of a story before coming to your final position on any subject. 

Who knows, maybe listening to the news with this frame of mind might actually lead you to a different opinion, or a potential world-changing solution.

Solutions are hard to come by when considering world issues and solutions coming from the common man, though potentially productive, will probably not see the light of daytime coverage; though you might get some air time on the late-night news/entertainment shows.

This leads me back to the “scope of influence” item I mentioned.

Ultimately, the source of frustration we feel, in my humble opinion, is our inability to change anything.  However, even though we may not be able to take action on a global scale, that doesn’t mean we can’t do something that will have a positive impact on somebody locally.

Maybe we can’t end wars, but we could learn more about them.  We can study history, learn what prompted previous wars and where current conflicts originated.  Sometimes understanding will put the news in context.  You still may not be able to do anything, but at least you’ll understand it.

Go find veterans who have served in combat and ask them about it. Many times you will get the ground-level view you’ll never see on TV.

Unless you happen to be somebody such as a CDC doctor or world-renowned medical researcher, you can’t cure illness; but maybe you can volunteer at the local hospital, helping people who are ill. Offering kind words and helpful information to people who need a hospital can often make their illness less obtrusive.

Watching the world’s starving children is gut-retching and sad, but making a dent in the problem is overwhelming; however, there are starving children and homeless families who need help right here in our back yards, no matter where you live. So maybe donating food to local food banks will give you a sense of accomplishment.

Helping people everywhere is a noble yet daunting task that the vast majority of us will never achieve. However, helping people in our own communities is definitely an achievable goal. 

I think a means of reducing news-frustration and actually making a difference lies in involvement in local communities--that’s where individuals can really make a difference.  There are so many groups out there trying to make a difference; veterans and civic groups, churches, non-profit organizations and even individuals with passion and a cause. 

So next time I get into a conversation with someone about the news, I think I’ll offer some of this new insight and ask them, “What can you do to change it?” That could be an interesting discussion.

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Beaufort, S.C.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email

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