Information, not emergencies

We had a fiery cluster of activity on Instagram last week. It all started when I shared a post about disengaging from the news cycle. People jumped in and the discussion got spicy. The concern, of course, was that ignorance is untenable. And that remaining unaware can only come from a place of privilege and disconnection. This stuff that is important to discuss. Big-picture health includes the wellbeing of our communities. It means living our values (metaphysical health). And it means self-care.

I love and appreciate the people who are quicker to respond to injustice. They tend to be more sensitive to these issues. So, while they can sometimes come in hot, they are part of a healthy societal immune system. Without them, we would be in a state of chronic under-reaction.

Yet awareness can take a toll. Many of these folks say that have had to take breaks from the news after it had become overwhelming. This stuff can be hard—and it can be hard on you. This is often by design.

Back in 2017, Facebook’s updated its ranking algorithm. Now, an angry reaction is FIVE times more valuable than likes. How did that go? Funny you should ask. These posts were “disproportionately likely to include misinformation, toxicity and low-quality news.” Facebook decided not to care how they got engagement. The result was a massive signal boost for negative bullshit. So, there’s that. Left to its own devices, Facebook will also get you into radicalization territory pretty quickly.

There is also an artificial asymmetry of information that can be stressful. Look at social media post-Kyle Rittenhouse trial. You’d assume that a huge amount of people supported his actions and acquittal. Yet an analysis of tweets showed that perhaps 10% were real. The rest came from Russia, China, and the EU—and fit the mould of attempts to disrupt US democracy

Facebook isn’t the only issue. The 24-hour news cycle brings a fevered sense of urgency and drama. It also cannot tolerate the idea of a gap in information flow. Have you ever checked and rechecked your feed for updates on an important issue? I have. Most of the time, it’s the same footage and commentary on replay. So, what’s a person to do?

News is a form of intake. So, I thought it might be useful to apply some more universal concepts from nutrition.

Focus on first principles
It’s easier to sidestep hype and bombast when you know how things work. You won’t buy a supplement when you know that the claims have zero to do with actual biochemistry. Or feel confused about why a diet works in spite of its goofy, backwards logic (calories. It’s usually calories).

Sign hanging in Jonestown

Information is not action
I’ve met people with impressive knowledge of exercise and nutrition. They did everything except for actually working out. I’ve also met people with incredible memories for facts and issues. But who have never volunteered, donated, or examined their values in any meaningful way.

Image Credit: Stuart Walker

There is a sweet spot. It’s where we have enough information to make decisions but not so much that we lose a sense of context.

I would suggest that the ultimate heuristic is whether information changes our behaviours. What we buy. Who we support. How we speak. What actions we take. And, as per usual, I would emphasize consistency.

At the heart of this is self-care. None of us are able to onboard new information or positive change when we’re revving in the emotional red. Especially for those who are non-neurotypical, struggle with trauma or to emotionally regulate. There’s a point where knowing enough is, quite simply, enough. We’ve got to be judicious.

Avoid chronic inflammation
Let’s say that you love cheese—but the love does not feel reciprocal. Daily consumption may not add to your quality of life. So, if you often find your nerves-a-jangling post-scroll, it’s something to consider.

Examine your sources
Is this news farm-to-table? Or has it been shipped, hyper-processed, packaged and advertised to you? There are some pretty big quality differences. However, just because it’s not from a mainstream source, quality is not guaranteed. Here, it’s helpful to remember that the plural of anecdote is misinformation.

I choose to follow news via publications and Instagram feeds from diverse communities. The main dish is generally the same but the seasoning is different. And just like on the desert planet Arrakis, the spice can expand consciousness.

Two of my favourites:

  • The Root (for incisive, sassy commentary)
  • Walking Eagle News (there is no faster vehicle than irony when it comes to bringing you up to speed)

Consider a different cadence
Some people have found intermittent fasting to be a revelation. They don’t try to eat less. per se. They just limit their window for eating. Simple guidelines can be easier to follow.

Increase the good stuff
This is the last but maybe the most. If you’re going to take good care of your brain, it means providing it with the nutrients it needs. Positivity. Celebration of what’s going right. Hope. Skill development. Empathy. Gratitude. There is lot that is right with the world right now. So, it’s important to remember—and build—on that.