Ever since my landlady inadvertently canceled our house’s internet connection at the end of April, I have had the unexpected, um, opportunity to go on a bit of a fast from news media, blogging, and compulsive email-checking for a number of weeks (yes, weeks!). It hasn’t been a total restriction of internet access, because I can attend to my most pressing online needs and habits while holed up in my windowless office after work, but because of my distaste for spending extra time in said office, it has been a significant restriction. I won’t say I particularly welcomed this partial media fast, but now that I’m back online (wow, “I’m” online–total cyborg thinking here), I have a feeling it was good for me. I feel a bit more relaxed, less of a sense of needless urgency pacing around in my head. I’ve read a few novels and had time to myself to think.
It’s been nice.
10% Useful, 90% Brain-Garbage
At one time in my past, however, a strict total media fast of a month or so was not just nice, but critical to circumventing a total mental breakdown. This was around the time of the 2004 elections. I was in a challenging period in college, working through lingering PTSD from a violent relationship, working on too many projects at once as usual, hardly doing any yoga, and utterly despairing of the fact that Americans were in the process of reelecting the inarguably worst president the (supposedly) democratic world has ever seen. A scary panic attack let me to make an emergency appointment with a school counselor, who introduced me to the idea of a media fast. Brilliant!
Is the world going to fall apart if I don’t know what’s happening in it for one month? No. Is there anything the media the might tell me in the next month that’s going to make me change the way I live my life? No. Is the media telling me anything about all the positive things that are happening in the world right now? Again, no. Maybe 10% of what I read, hear, see in the media is useful to me in some way, but the other 90% is just noise! Absolute brain-garbage!
My First Media Fast
So I decided to stop picking up the free copies of the New York Times on campus, stop reading news online, stop listening to Democracy Now and FSRN on the radio, and stop seeking out any kind of news or unnecessary information for one month. (TV was never an issue–I haven’t had one for years.) This was the only change I made and I believe it radically changed the quality of my brainwaves. More authentic thought and emotion, less noise. And when I did start reading newspapers again, I did so less often, and with more of a focus on the things that were important to me. I became better at keeping some emotional distance between myself and the events of the world. Tragedies and stupidities in the world still made me sad, but it was a cleaner quality of sad–less despairing-of-the-world sad, and easier to get past. I could listen to the news without letting it have such a powerful influence on my worldview. Looking back, I think this particular media fast was an important step in developing my emotional maturity. Before, it was as if I had no defenses, and would just be swept about by the information coming at me from all sides. A strict media fast required me to solidify my own views based on my own actual observations and experiences, to become more of the subject of my own life. It helped to teach me about the practice of mental freedom.
I think the counselor’s name was Dana–I will always be grateful for her and this little piece of timely advice that had such a big impact on me.