February 16, 2015 by Dymphna 12 Comments

Getting your news from a drug-dealer

Tablet computer, smartphone and newspapers

I once knew a bloke in Sydney who was addicted to the news.

He’d read The Australian and the local daily – and pretty much whatever else he could find. He also had News Radio on pretty much 24/7. He even left it on in his bedroom overnight! I don’t know how his wife put up with it.

And then one year, his family got him a shower radio so he could keep listening in the bathroom!

Classic enabling behaviour.

But turns out ‘news addiction’ is a thing. Turns out the news is a drug like any other – in the sense that it’s addictive, and prolonged use changes the way your brain functions.

Putting on my amateur psychologist hat, I’d say people are drawn to drugs for a reason. They serve the user some sort of purpose – whether it’s a bit of fun, or release or escape from their situation, whatever.

And so the news has a few claws that hook into these funny ol monkey brains of ours.

The first thing to remember is that we’re hardwired to be fascinated by dangers and threats.

This makes sense when you’re tripping about the forest. If you miss a berry or two here and there, no dramas. Miss one sabre-tooth tiger though and it’s game over.

So our minds are constantly on the look out for the things that scare us. And this is where the news comes in. The news is effectively an open channel for fear.

Terrorists, plane crashes, and disease outbreaks. Car crashes and missing models. Horror, sorrow and dangerous things! There’s a place for them all in the pages of a newspaper.

And we find them all fascinating. Even if they’re repulsive at one level, we still feel drawn to them.

And the papers know this. They know what sells. As they say in the business:

“If it bleeds, it leads.”

So that’s the first point. Newspapers are selling fear. They’re fear-mongers. I don’t think there’s any evil intent here. They package up fear for us because we ask them to.

But why would we want to buy fear?

Well as I said, it’s instinctively fascinating, but it’s also just fun. In the same way that horror movies are ‘fun’.

And in the same way that all drugs are fun. It’s exhilarating to feel the rush of adrenalin that comes when you’re scared. The little tweak of anxiety and energy in your cup of coffee. The sedative hit to your inhibitions with a glass of wine.

Newspapers are a safe, arms-length way to get off on the rush of energy that comes with contemplating something horrific.

That’s part of the story.

The other part is that we buy parcels of fear because it gives us the illusion of control. It’s comforting to think that we’re ‘up-to-date’ – that we know everything that’s going on. The world is a horrible, scary place, but we’re on top of it. We’ve got the upper hand because we know what’s going on.

It’s a comforting illusion.

But it’s just an illusion. Say you know about a plane that crashed somewhere in Eastern Europe… what real use is that information to you? Are you going to change the way you relate to air-travel, or visiting Europe?

(If you do, chances are you’ll get it wrong. People wildly over-estimate the likelihood that they’ll die in a plane-crash…)

And every time I say this, someone always says, “but knowledge is power.”

It’s not.

Knowledge is a tool. It’s only powerful when it’s ‘applied’ to something.

And sure, a newspaper is a Bunnings Warehouse full of tools, but how many of them do you actually plan on using?

People who say they read the news to keep informed sound a little to me like alcoholics who say they only drink because like the taste.

Now I’m not saying there’s nothing useful in a paper. And definitely not saying we want to go sticking our heads in the sand.

It’s just everything in moderation. And we just need to be mindful of the addictive quality of ‘news’.

Because if we spend too long dwelling on fear, we can get stuck there. It’s starts shaping the way we think and the way we see the world.

The world is an abundant place and full of opportunities. There are many beautiful things and examples of people being loving and generous towards each other.

But you can miss all this is if you’re only looking for the dangerous and horrible.

And if you’re locked in fear, you become overly-cautious. You become less willing to take risks.

In my experience, scaredy-cat investors never do well. They always end up behind the market, and miss those gems that spontaneously jump out at you from time to time.

(Maybe they miss them because they just don’t believe they exist?)

And so if you want information, go to sources of information. (Blogs like this, for example!) Find experts and read what they’re on about. I’ve got about 5 or 6 property experts who I follow. I definitely don’t go to the newspapers for property analysis.

Because the news is not a source of information. It’s a source of fear.

And you don’t go to your drug dealer for nutritional advice.