Shouts erupted from the bar as the television showed a wide-receiver strutting the football in for a touchdown.
High-fives made their way down the row of barstools as I observed from a corner booth with two of my friends. We had no comment on the game.
There was a different topic of conversation dominating the happy hour festivities at our table. Smug intellectuals that we were, we had little interest in spectator sports that engulfed the masses. You see, we believed we had something far more superior and important to analyze – breaking news stories of the day. We were a table of news junkies.
Our discussion didn’t concern the personal backstories or career statistics of the professional athletes on the screen. Instead, we pondered over the intricacies of the latest trade deal, the 2016 presidential election, and the uncertain future of the Affordable Care Act.
As we finished discussing the latest media outrage over a Donald Trump comment, I overheard a conversation between the girls at the next table over. They were going on and on about the latest celebrity divorce gossip before moving into a heated discussion regarding which candidate should emerge triumphant in ABC’s The Bachelor.
I eavesdropped for a few seconds before rolling my eyes, turning my attention back to what I believed was a more enlightened debate at my own table.
But as our conversation continued, I started thinking about a recent suspicion I had.
Was the news cycle really that different from other types of junk information people fill their heads with?
I had always looked down on people for obsessing over the personal lives of celebrities. I mean, why would you spend so much time following the life of somebody that has no idea who you are? I thought it was pathetic. And I felt the same way about spectator sports. I couldn’t understand how people could get so emotionally invested in people and events that had nothing to do with them.
But after several years, it finally began to dawn on me that I was doing the exact same thing, only with different subject matter.
I had no vested interest in the news. I saw zero monetary return from all the time I dedicated to consuming their information. Why did I need to know intricate details about things I had no control over? It wasn’t like in was in some kind of decision-making or advisory legislative role. I was a cubicle drone in Corporate America.
It certainly didn’t make me feel any happier or excited about life to see all the stories about whatever latest tragedy had happened in the world. And just like celebrities and athletes, the politicians and journalists that make up the news industry have no idea who I am. So what did I really have to gain from following the news so intensely? It was starting to seem like all it did was alienate me from friends who held slightly differing opinions.
Did I really need daily updates on the status of the Dow Jones Industrial Average? Was it truly necessary to refresh my Google News browser 10 times a day for a constant stream of updates on the most recent bill making its way through Congress? Was the IV drip of information via CNN iPhone push notifications actually adding value to my life?
While I found the news interesting and addictive, I could not deny that I was filling my head with mostly worthless information that was causing a negative impact in my life. All that time invested in reading articles and watching cable news; what did I have to show for it? Fewer friends and a more depressing view of the world.
The worst thing of all was that I had tricked myself into thinking I was superior to the sports fanatics and the reality TV followers.
But at the end of the day I had nothing better to show for my time-investment than they did.
It became clear to me that most political debates among friends had nothing to do with learning or developing intellectual prowess but rather were ego-driven power plays to see who could out-debate the other. The most intelligent person in the room was defined as whoever could fill their head with as many news factoids and as much trifling politician gossip as possible.
I was done with news.
I removed the news websites I had marked as home pages that opened every time I launched a browser. I deleted all news apps off of my smartphone. I purged every Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube account that consisted of mostly news-related tweets.
I took all that time I had been sinking into my news addiction and began to allocate it towards writing, creating, and producing things. Now I’m starting to have something to show for how I spend my free time. Not to mention I have less stress in my life and am generally happier.
Back at the restaurant with my friends, I finally had realized the biggest fools in the room weren’t the sports fanatics or the reality TV followers – but us, the table of news junkies for thinking we were somehow better.