How healthy is your news diet?

14th December 2011

But if Jacobs' task was tough, now imagine going even a month, a week or a day, without news. Yes, not a single TV or radio bulletin, or a newspaper, or any of your favourite information websites.

Impossible? Pointless? Neither, according to Rolf Dobelli, a Swiss entrepreneur and novelist. He says we now face so much news that we have reached the stage Europeans and North Americans reached two or three decades ago with food – there is so much of it that it has become toxic.

He says: "News is to the mind what sugar is to the body". He means it is easy to digest, then addictive, and finally poisonous. Ask those suffering from obesity and diabetes.

Dobelli is a close friend of  Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan. The two share ideas.

In his paper Avoid News Dobelli believes "news misleads us systematically" – it chases the flashy and the visible so Britney Spears is overrated and Wagner underrated. More importantly, terrorism is overrated while chronic stress is underrated.

People read around 10,000 new items a year. Serious investors probably take in more. He asks if you can name just one story that allowed you to make "a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, career or business" than if you had not seen it.  There is no evidence to show information junkies are better decision makers – some investors make a habit of ignoring the news flow, concentrating instead on finding companies with low term value.

You may need the news if you are trading the market on a minute to minute basis. But many investors are prepared for a five to ten year time span – over which period the news is irrelevant.

Avoiding the news could make you physically, mentally as well as financially healthier. In a section entitled "News is toxic to your body", Dobelli lists the illnesses news junkies face – including lack of growth and susceptibility to infections. News media should carry a health warning – just like tobacco products. The news stops you thinking, changes the structure of your brain, kills creativity and wastes time.

Dobelli suggests cold turkey is the way. So cancel newspapers, avoid news sites and read magazines and books which explain the world.  Leave Lindsay Lohan alone (you may have done so already) and learn about life.

Dobelli is not alone. Therese Borchard at Psychcentral says that if you are already depressed, a news diet will only make matters worse.  She writes: "Learning to read the daily newspaper when you're depressed is like learning to feed the ducks in Annapolis without getting crapped on by the seagulls: it demands good timing, a certain strategy, and an obnoxiously wide hat (to shield your head)."

She stresses that you need to be in a certain physical frame to look at the news.

"I can't check CNN.com every half hour for the most recent headlines like Eric, my husband, does. I'm way too anxious about the world's doom and gloom. Like all the other important activities in my week, I wait for the right moment: when I have a full stomach of protein and fiber, when I'm semi-rested (very rare with two insomniacs as children), when I'm not too caffeinated (even rarer), and when I'm not ticked off at a family member (rarest)."

Mindful Money has previously warned that market falls get more media attention than market rises – it seems to be a universal law that bad news travels quicker than good and also sells more media.

A writer on blog site hubpages suggests "this constant assault on us by bad news can be detrimental to our health – you begin to think that the whole world is collapsing about your ears."

He asks: "Do we really need to be in the know all the time? Is all this bad news good for your health?"

He suggests: "If you feel that things get you down avoid the negativity in life and leave your television off and don't buy a newspaper for a week. Our senses are assaulted 24/7 by news of all sorts from all corners of the Earth and most of it seems to be of the bad variety. Our ‘here and now' world spins on this information overload and it would hardly be a surprise to discover that it upsets and depresses a lot of people and plays such a large part in their everyday life. Somebody coughs in India and we know about it within the hour. As an example take the recent swine fever scare, it seems we had updates on statistics regarding death rates and where next to avoid going on holiday popping up on our screens every few minutes."

And if you really need convincing of the uselessness of so-called news, go back to 1999 to recall the Millennium Bug. A panic across the news imbibing world, a spend in the UK of at least half a billion ending as a squib as damp as London's turn of the century River of Fire. Still, it created work for computer programmers as well as journalists.

More from Mindful Money:

Does ‘crowdfunding' stack up for investors?

Market crash: Headlining and tweeting our way to volatility

Investment perspectives: The language of the crisis

The Trouble with Headlines: ‘sometimes, we have to disappoint you’

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