There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
One of the funny things about people is that we often do crazy things that even a crazy person would think twice about. Take TV news for instance. Each evening at roughly the time most people are thinking about going to bed, millions tune in the telly for a dose of news, sports and weather. The stories vary in detail, but the format is always the same. First we learn about some horrifying crime, followed by a ghastly accident, rounded out with an all-consuming blaze or devastating natural disaster. To spice things up further, about once a week we see a mug shot of the latest teacher caught having sex with a student. Then, with a sigh of relief, comes the weather. This is usually a light-hearted and colorful segment because by ten o’clock or so you probably know everything you need to know about tomorrow’s weather. After all, if you’ve waited until the nightly news to learn about a tornado bearing down on your community, you’ve probably already been deposited in Oz and are knocking back drinks with a scarecrow, a tin man and a benign lion (get the scarecrow to pay). Like the weather, the sports segment brings nothing new to anyone with a smartphone. Perhaps in some communities this is a time for fans to bask once again in the glory of their teams’ latest victories. If you live in Houston, on the other hand, the experience is more like picking a scab off a wound. Grown men have been known to begin sobbing uncontrollably as news of the Astros, or Texans, or Rockets roll across their screen. Wanting to give us a positive send-off, the news team often ends with a “feel good” story. Unfortunately, the pretext for these stories can be pretty disturbing in their own right—Town comes together to celebrate teen’s survival after being swallowed by an alligator while swimming in grandparent’s pool. Granted, you’re glad they came together but you’ll never go swimming again—ever. Celebrity news is a little better. Whose chest doesn’t swell with loco parentis pride upon learning that a now mature Lindsey Lohan has added separate wings for rehab and minimum security incarceration in her new Beverly Hills home? (But do you really care?) And with that, the news team cheerily waves goodbye. This is great, but is any of it conducive to a good night’s sleep? No wonder we toss and turn as visions of murderous home invasions, rising humidity and the Texans leading at the half (a sure sign of impending defeat) dance in our heads. It doesn’t take a scientist to know that we could have lived without the previous 30 minutes of “news.”
But life is filled with all sorts of “news” we could live without. How about that helpful “feedback” offered up by your significant other, your teenage children, your well-intentioned friend, or your perpetually disappointed parents? And face it, after an annual “performance review” with a tone deaf supervisor most of us come away thinking, “I could have gone at least another year without hearing that!” In an age of information overload, we should assess how much we take in filtered by what we need and want to take in. Virtually nothing from the rumor mill is worth it and irrelevant bad news from almost any source is best avoided. Even the emotionally neutral though mind-numbing chatter in most meetings is something we could pass on. The problem is that a steady diet of negative information is a breeding ground for depression and a heavy dose of boredom leaves you with that sleepy, after-lunch feeling. Of course you can’t avoid this kind of thing entirely, but when you have a choice, consider if the information is in any way helpful or is something you can use. If it is, go ahead and take it in, but if not, be wise and give it a pass. Savor the calm. —Ebert