The Low Information Diet

Since about the age of 16 and for nearly for 30 years since I was an avid consumer of news, particularly daily newspapers.  This seemed normal to me.  My father read the newspaper everyday.  My paradigm was that successful people get up early and read at least 1 if not 2 papers from cover to cover everyday.  So that is what I did for nearly 30 years.

In his book The 4-hour Work Week Tim Ferriss suggests that we adopt a low information diet and that we practice selective ignorance.  About the same time as I first read this book (July 2007) my wife was critical of me for reading the newspaper in the morning over breakfast rather than talking to my children.

Tim Ferriss also made another relevant point  – if there is a change that you can make that is easily reversible and that may have significant upside – why would not you make it?
In the 4-hour work week book, Tim Ferriss said that he never watched the tv news and had bought only 1 newspaper in the last 5 years, in Standsted Airport in London, and only because it gave him a discount on a diet pepsi.
Tim says “Most information is time consuming, negative, irrelevant to your goals, and outside of your influence.  I challenge you to look at whatever you read or watched today and tell me that was not at least 2 of these 4; I read the front page headlines through the newspaper machines as I walk to lunch and nothing more.  In 5 years, never had a single problem due to this selective ignorance.”
So based on these ideas I cancelled our newspaper subscription.  For the first day or two I felt a bit uncomfortable. I did however continue to buy a single newspaper the Weekly Australian and I would occasionally glance at newspapers in restaurants or cafes but I did not feel compelled to read them just glanced.
I also started using my Personal Video Recorder [PVR] to automatically tape the evening news as watching the evening news had also become a bit of an addiction. It was also not unusual for me to watch one or more current affair programs each evening.
So what happened?  First thing I noticed by my occasional glances at papers was how the news cycle worked.  Day 1 there would be initial story, Day 2 would be a bit more detail on the initial story and commentary from some of the players, Day 3 would be commentary from another player primarily about what the previous days commentator had said, Day 4 if the story was still running there would be some greater background bit – a colour story.
At the end of the day most of this was just fluff  – it was just content to feel the newspaper. Opinions about opinions.
In regard to the evening news someone wise once observed how amazing it is that the amount of news in the world everyday is exactly 30 minutes worth.  You really start to become more aware with just how much fluff there is.
I not feel that I in the last 3 years had missed anything of significance.  In some ways I think have been much more attentive because you only pay attention to the things that are significant.  But then rather than just relying on the newspaper for further information on something of significance you may well look at other information sources.
So as an example I really like the collaborative effort of Wikipedia on breaking news stories. If you want to test this yourself just find a news story of interest and track it on Wikipedia over several days or even months depending on the context.  You would often find that it is much richer and less biased.
So I continue to buy the newspaper on a Saturday and now it is like a special treat.
I now look at the evening tv news later that evening or sometimes days later. I am now quite prepared to just delete the entire news if the headlines in the opening summary do not reve anything of interest.

I also savour the weekly Economist magazine and I find that their 2-page summary of international affairs provides me with a much better overview of what mattered in the world last week.
I encourage you to try the low information diet.


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