Someone asked me if I was living under a rock and I answered yes
what purposeful disconnection taught me about myself and the world
Not too long ago, somewhere near the beginning of January, the day gradually turned sepia. It started off as a fine blue-skies kind of morning but descended into a zombie apocalyptic kind of light by the time it hit midday. Naturally, I jumped into a Facebook group for the first time in three months.
Before that, I had completely disconnected from the world. The only ‘news’ that I heard from beyond my little confines of work from home setup was through whatever snippet I gleaned from the people around me.
I figured that if it’s important enough, someone would tell me. It turned out that the sepia sky was due to Australia’s wildfire that’s been ravaging them since around November. Most people in the group were nice and answered the question. However, one person got a bit salty at my blatant ignorance and asked if I had been living under a rock.
I replied yes. Yes, I have.
Why I disconnected from the news
Over the past few years, my life turned into a chaotic soup of a mess. I had a baby. The company I worked for died. Savings were draining out through rent. Student loan payments took a good portion of whatever I made. The landlord hinted at wanting his house back. I wasn’t eating right. Whatever exercise I was supposed to be having never happened.
On top of that, I was getting notifications for news that did nothing for my mental health.
They all had the same theme about them — politicians arguing about the same things: housing, welfare, healthcare, the economy, and the rising costs of living. The solutions were the same —rehashed, rebranded, and then presented by different sets of people.
The other category of ‘news’ that came through was about famous people doing ordinary things. Sometimes there would be an accompanying photograph of them going grocery shopping, wearing a particular type of nail polish, or how they did their hair.
The last category is the echo chambers of opinion, where feelings, emotions, and perspective towards a particular issue is brought up, summarized, and then presented again in a different format — if not a straight copy and paste from their twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube or wherever it was originally posted.
Personally, I just got tired of reading the same things about the same people doing the same things. The mental load that came from consuming the woes of the world was just too much for me. So I disconnected. I deleted everything I followed, culled my friends’ list, and rearranged my digital spaces. I made clear lines between personal, professional, and what can be considered a distractionary thing called the news.
What it taught me about my relationship with the world
For starters, the world kept going with its news. As an individual, I remained the same insignificant little drop in the vast pool of potential consumers.
I started doing my own thing, freeing myself from the distractions of who I should be, what I should be doing, and how I ought to do it. In the grand scheme of news consumption — no one cared. So I stopped caring.
It’s not because I’m cold-hearted or don’t care about the welfare of others. Rather, it’s because there’s nothing that I can personally do at such a required grand scale in order to make the dramatic change required to make something happen.
I can’t personally stop the wars, stop the shootings, stop global warming, stop the inequalities, stop the poverty, stop the miseries of others, or stop everything that seems to be falling apart for as long as I can remember.
I am just one insignificant human that will be forgotten when the memory of me fades away from those I’ve encountered and interacted with.
And with this acceptance and realization, I started to break free from the anxiety-inducing impacts of not being able to do anything about the constant problems that plague our societies.
How disconnecting changed my relationship with myself
Knowledge is power and ignorance is bliss. The news is often mistaken as knowledge but it’s not.
Well, not the way most news media is presented nowadays. Facts are often sidestepped by speculation and opinion. Actual factual details and real data is something that you have to go and hunt for rather than have it delivered to you.
When I stopped consuming the news, I stopped absorbing the multitude of opinions of others and started to uncover my own voice for the first time in a long time. I also started to do more research into particular issues and how I can personally contribute without it being overwhelming on a mental and financial level.
I started to change my attitude and outlook towards life. It was no longer an endless abyss of doom and gloom — but rather as something that I can construct and create based on the current resources, knowledge and skills that I have. I started to read content that was more fact-based or ideas that provoked deeper thoughts than just the surface description of someone doing something.
Disconnecting slowed me down and in a good way kind of slow down. It gave me the mental space to pause and assess what’s presented to me rather than trying to race along trying to consume whatever news-like story came along.
It shifted my focus and rather than tuning in to see what woes the world that I can’t do anything about today I started to focus on myself instead. I started to ask questions that would benefit me and those within my available reach.
Not making enough money? How can I make more? Not skilled enough in a particular area? What can I do to get better? Does someone I know have a bit of a hard time? Do I have the capacity to help, if not, is there someone or a resource to help them?
These questions were more useful for instigating action and movement forward. It was better and much more effective at creating change than knowing that the world is still burning and I can’t do anything about it.
How it strangely prepared me for a pandemic
Every now and then the real news would trickle through. Mr. Beast planting a million trees made it into my peripheries. Along with the Amazon burning.
COVID-19 started off as a strange set of digital whispers that eventually descended into a total country lockdown within the month of its spread becoming community-based. The hard part about the pandemic was that it moved fast, with a host of misinformation and bad communications. In short, no one really knew what was going on in the beginning.
February turned into March and suddenly countries were closing their borders with the World Health Organization announcing it as a pandemic. Chaos ensued as everyone tried to pitch in and cash up through the public’s confusion and unknown state of severity at the time.
Suddenly, the world felt like it was yelling at each other, trying to point fingers and lay blame through conspiracy theories. The one about Bill Gates as the sole mastermind the virus as his way of microchipping everyone on the planet is probably the most creative one I’ve seen.
When the noise got too much, I decided it was time to disconnect again — not because I was heartless, unsympathetic, or didn’t care — but rather because I can’t do anything. It was the same mentality and realization that I had when I disconnected the first time around.
The only thing I can do is wash my hands and keep the toddler indoors. That’s the only contribution within my power for the wider community and society. I checked in on my parents and other family members via video calls and messages. I continued with my work (and grateful that I still have work) and supported local businesses for the things I needed through online orders with places that were still open.
What, exactly, can we learn from the news?
A lot of the news presented to us isn’t actually news in the sense that it’s supposed to be, or what we think it should be.
In reality, it is speculation. It is opinion. It is the lives of others, including big and small communities, captured in formats, rehashed and reworked to a point where context is disregarded. The truthiness and essence of it are often stripped bare to a point where it is most often unrecognizable.
This my experience of the news I encountered.
Everything comes in cycles and every time that history repeats itself, it’s because we haven’t really learned anything from it. The past is static. It doesn’t change — but the present is always in a state of flux and we have the ability to influence it through our personal and day to day decisions.
For most people, our influence reaches as far as our contacts. Not everyone has the same reach, and how they use it is their responsibility to bear. What we need to do as individuals is to have accountability for our personal reaches, how it impacts, and influences others to think and do things.
The news is something that lives in the present and speculates the future. It doesn’t really teach us anything unless it actually gives us a proper history lesson on the topic it’s trying to address. That’s what investigative journalism is for — something that is dying in the wake of sensationalist news.
While there is nothing that we can personally do to stop it, we can help by diverting our attention away from the type of news that reports things just for the sake of reporting.
Give your attention to the things that will truly make a difference in your personal growth and understanding of the world instead. It’ll help lessen the anxieties caused by the feeling of helplessness over things that we never had control or influence on the grand scale it needs in the first place.
We can only change the things we can control and learning to recognize these is the first step to lifting the multitude of opinions, gossip, and whatever else that you allow in to sabotage your mental health.