The latest Cracked Podcast (one of my favorites by the way) is entitled “How evolution made us unfit for the modern world.” One way our bodies have not kept pace with the modern world is that our brain is set up to want to take action in response to negative information. Predator nearby? Flee or fight. Hungry? Go find food. But, now, the world is more complicated, and we’re receiving information from everywhere — much of it not particularly relevant to your situation. But, while intellectually, you might understand that the information doesn’t matter to your situation; on a more basic level your brain might have an emotional response. This causes more of a free floating anxiety that isn’t easily discharged.
An interesting statistic that the podcast pointed to had to do with the disconnect between people’s perception of the national well-being versus their own well-being. There is persistently a huge gap and has been for a long time. About 85% of people are generally happy with their life and the direction it’s going. By contrast, about 70% of people are generally unhappy with the direction they perceive that the country is headed. I think the reason for that is that folks receive fairly direct information about their own lives and generally have a certain amount of control to deal with the problems they do have. Meanwhile, information about the state of the nation comes from a lot of sources with reasons to emphasize the negative.News organizations know you’ll stay tuned through the commercials for bad news. Advertisers want to let you know that there are problems. Lots of problems. But they have the solution! And at such a reasonable price!
The Cracked podcast also points out that your attention is a finite resource. And the more attention you are paying to anxiety-provoking information outside of your control, the less attention you have for things that bring meaning or joy to your life. As I was considering these things, without me particularly trying, the Colin Kaepernick sitting-during-the-national-anthem-as-protest situation was brought to my attention. And on this topic, people have opinions. Strong opinions. It’s about perfect for Internet rage du jour. The facts are reasonably simple. You can understand them pretty quickly without some egghead pointing out too many extra details or nuances. The issues involved have a lot of emotional resonance: patriotism and protest! Have at it! “You hate America!” “You want black people to shut up!” “I like exclamation points!”
I’m not saying that you have to or should ignore these issues. And I’m the last person to criticize media-consumption from the Internet. But we should be mindful of the fact that the information we consume has an impact on our well-being. Sometimes a candy bar is just the thing — because the taste is so good or you need a spike of sugar immediately. But, if you eat junk food all day every day, it’s going to affect you. So, watch what you’re putting into your mind. It’s a dangerous mediascape out there!