As I write this, the election is 24 days away. 😱
If the rest of 2020 has been any indication, we can reasonably expect about 3 years worth of major news to take place in those few short weeks. And I shudder to think of what the news cycle will look like should the election be contested and drawn out.
Having been so consumed by the news this year, here's one thing I know for sure.
If I don’t take prophylactic measures to protect my sanity and attention, the next month or two will be spent in an addictive, consumptive stupor, where entire days and weeks will disappear beneath the weight of my perpetual anxiety-fueled doomscrolling.
So today, I’m taking such measures, because frankly, I’ve got more important things to do with my life. I’m launching a new business. I’m working extremely hard to get in shape. And I’m generally trying to live a centered, responsible life.
Instead of ceding my sense of agency and wellbeing to the results of the election, I’m focusing on those few things I can control, and taking care of the people and causes that are important to me. Regardless of what happens, I’ll carry on the work of being a citizen, and upholding the values of this country either way. It does no one any good, myself least of all, to be glued to the news.
Here’s how I’m taking back my attention, while still staying informed, in the months to come. If you’re also feeling a sense of impending media-induced doom, perhaps you’ll find some utility in my methods.
Aiming for the inbox
My first step is creating space for proactive and limited news consumption, rather than the reactive and impulsive approach that’s defined much of this year.
Instead of drinking from the internet firehose all day long, I’m going have a few refreshing glasses of water delivered at reasonable times.
For me, the ideal place to consume news this way is my email inbox, in newsletter form. It arrives first thing in the morning, or in the evening, and I can consume it on my own schedule, not someone else’s.
Plus, when the news shows up like this, it’s self-contained. You read it, you get to the end, and that’s it. There’s no perpetual scrolling looking for your next hit of dopamine. You’re just done.
For me, I’m making the commitment to use this approach at least until election day. It’ll keep me abreast of what’s going on, while placing clear and healthy limits on how much I consume.
Things I’m giving up
Committing to the inbox approach means actively getting rid of other sources of information. Because if there’s one thing I don’t want, it’s even more opportunities to get sucked down a rabbit hole of doom than I already have. The goal is less information, but better.
The first step for me is blocking the Axios website, which has become my go-to source for quick hits throughout the day. For the actual blocking, I use an app called Self Control. This is one of the few blockers that is indeed very difficult to circumvent.
Next up, I’m deleting my “Politics” twitter list, which is where I go when I want to see heterodox thinkers dunk on the clownish, authoritarian rhetoric of both the far left and right. Checking in on this list is not a healthy impulse, and it often leads to the aforementioned rabbit holes of doom, along with a toxic stew of righteous indignation and anxiety. For my sanity, political twitter needs to go away for awhile.
In the past few months, these are the two sources that I’ve felt most addicted to. Twitter in particular has been the big one. So hopefully by committing to the inbox and taking active measures to restrict my access to these digital drugs, I’ll reclaim a bit of sanity and space in these incredibly stupid times.
Three sources, no more
There are two additional things I want to protect against.
First is creating another overwhelming firehose that’s impossible to keep up with. There are approximately eleventy thousand political newsletters these days, and allowing too many of them into my inbox will likely create much of the same anxiety as social media or visiting news sites/aggregators directly.
Ideally, given how many other things I’m working on, I only want to spend 15-20 minutes a day on news. Anything more is likely a distraction from the work that matters most to me. So that means I need a hard limit on how much news comes into my inbox. Right now, that limit is three newsletters/publications.
Second, I want a fairly balanced assortment of stories and perspectives coming into my inbox each week. I’m not a partisan. I take pride in my non-partisanship, as I believe tribal warfare is ultimately destructive to the ideals we’re trying to live up to as a nation, and to our welfare as individuals.
So in the outlets I’ve chosen to allow into my inbox, I’ve tried to create a nice mix of center-left and center-right news and analysis. Here’s what I’m consuming and why.
The Dispatch is a new-ish conservative publication built on Substack, and it’s quickly become one of my favorite news and editorial destinations online. It’s fair, it’s accurate, and it’s anti-hot take and anti-outrage. And generally speaking, you can feel that it’s run by smart, principled people who refuse to give into the cynical tribal power games that have consumed so much of the media. It’s refreshing.
On my end, I’m getting their Morning Dispatch newsletter, along with occasional editorials from David French, who I’ve come to admire deeply, especially as he talks more and more about the inherent danger in political polarization.
I really appreciate Axios’ “smart brevity” styling, where they break their stories into short, bulleted lists. It’s easily scannable, and generally fluff-free. For a quick glance through the most pertinent facts of a story, there’s nothing better.
For me, Axios definitely has a bit of a left-leaning edge, specifically when reporting at the intersections of tech and politics. But generally speaking, I find the outlet as a whole sharp and trustworthy.
I’ll be getting their signature AM and PM newsletters, both of which are pretty quick rundowns of the news of the day.
The Atlantic isn’t generally a news source, but it balances out my search for editorial diversity by offering thoughtful opinion pieces, and some occasional long-form reporting, mostly from left-leaning perspectives.
I’m getting their weekly newsletter, which shows up on Sundays, and which links out to their best stories of the week.
Wish me luck
That’s it. That’s the “media diet” I’ll be consuming over the next month in an attempt to not go insane.
I hope you found this mildly informative, and perhaps took away an idea or two for protecting your own sanity in the months to come.
Good luck to you, fellow citizen, and godspeed.