Political fatigue is real. “I can’t watch the news anymore — I just can’t,” is becoming a more and more common refrain. Natural disasters, political meltdowns, international crisis — we are inundated with such a huge amount of simply terrible news that many people are reporting they’re completely saturated. The problems with news overexposure are multi-faceted. It’s easy to drown in futility when you see everything that’s happening around you — but you can also feel incredibly guilty for how desensitized you’ve become, for not giving each tragedy or downturn the empathy and gravity it deserves. Plus, today it’s being reported that big events like Brexit are actually bad for our mental health.
Some people have gone so far as to take a blackout — in fact, Christopher Hebert, an author and an assistant professor of English at the University of Tennessee, took a year-long break from the news. That might seem like an extreme step — and a counterproductive one. With all that’s happening, when we need all of the political engagement and understanding we can muster, how could just switching off be the answer? Isn’t it irresponsible — isn’t it selfish? But in one extract where he explains his experience, it’s easy to see his point. He writes: “Listening to NPR 24-hours a day. Getting depressed. Yelling at the TV. Complaining with friends. Tweeting about how mad we are. We spend so much time consuming news, Jennifer says, that we don’t have any energy or emotion left to do anything about it.”
You take a break from the news, an effort to recapture a sense of personal perspective. (You feel better, if a little embarrassed for your new ignorance.) Then you resume reading the news. And with those fresh eyes, you see the sheer horror of it all. https://t.co/K8oTtHOwXe
— Amanda Davison (@A_M_Davison_) April 3, 2019
And that’s the crux. With endless access to the news — from our TVs, radios, phones, social media accounts, and of course, newspapers, many of us aren’t just informed — we’re obsessed. But through that obsession, we drive ourselves to the point of being well, useless. We’re so angry that we tire ourselves out, like toddlers screaming into the abyss. We need a political nap.
Maybe you do need a break — maybe you’re so far gone you need to reset before you can take on anything else. But what we all need, more than a break, is to develop a way to engage with the news and still be useful. To not obsess, refresh, scroll, and rant our way into oblivion. The balance between being informed and being engaged is surprisingly hard to get right but, now more than ever, it’s crucial to hold back enough of your own resourced to stay active. A more responsible approach to news consumption — like all digital consumption — is needed, because this is a long fight. And we’re just getting started.