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Ready for a media diet?

By John Ince

For the vast extent of human life on earth the only “media” was the spoken word of the small number of people in the camps of our ancestors.

Most of the knowledge of the world was unmediated, coming directly to our ancestor’s senses from the natural world they  inhabited.

That enabled them to avoid a deluge of bad news that is now a common feature of life in modern culture, and helps undermine our happiness.

The negativity bias
It turns out that humans are innately biased toward thinking negative thoughts and reporting them.  Scientists call this our negativity bias.

Evolution imprinted it within us because because it helped our ancestors survive on the primal plains.

The bad news that a lion was lurking nearby was way more critical to survival than the good news that a tasty deer was also close. Ignoring the bad news could kill you while missing the good news would only leave you hungry for a while.

So as our ancestors would talk around the fire long into the night, they would be prone to talk more about the bad news than good. But because the total of spoken information was minimal, the bad news would be limited.

Bad news leads
Now fast forward to today.  People are still riveted by negative news, which is reflected in the journalistic adage “if it bleeds, it leads”.  

So every day you hear repeated bad news reports of the  few car fatalities or murder in your community but virtually nothing of the much more common but totally boring good news about all the people who slept safe and sound last night.

Similarly every day the media bombards us with the horrible news of distant terrorism, wars, mass starvation, and natural calamities of all types.

The upshot is that everyone is exposed to way more bad news than we evolved to handle. This is a major downer.

Ironically, even though our world is way safer than that of the primal nomads, there may be more fear and distrust now than ever before thanks largely to the prevalence of the media in modern life.

I was a media junky
For most of my years, I’ve been a media junky. The daily news feed excited me, as did the dark and often violent stories favored by most television and  movie producers. (They know about our negativity bias too.)

But as I researched the Joyshift book, and learned about that bias, I became more sensitive to my emotional responses to the media that was pouring into me.

Yes, I felt excitement, but I also recognized discomfort. When I took a close look I discovered that most media deflated me.

I realized that media was like food and could have similar positive or negative emotional impact. I’ve always been very careful about what I put in my mouth but did not exercise any similar control over what I allowed into my mind.

My media diet
So I started to restrict that flow. I got rid of my television. Cancelled my newspaper subscriptions. Limited my online news consumption to ten minutes a day. (My sense of civic duty compels me to keep current at least with major headlines.) Stopped watching entertainment with violent themes -- no Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones for me.

I also started to search out media that would uplift me or make me laugh.

Like  Woody Allen's most popular film Midnight In Paris, or early classics like Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times,  or the 1970’s feel good Harold and Maude. I even gave  the British series Downton Abbey a try; I thought it would be stuffy and drab but I ended up, like much of the planet, becoming a fan.

Now I’m pretty disciplined in my media diet. To counterbalance the ten minutes of mostly downer time in my daily news surf I create a longer  stream of positive media.

So I’m constantly on the lookout for lists of “the ten most uplifting movies of all time” and similar curations. It is a bit of work to find these gems, but worth the effort.  I feel happier for my new media diet.