Along with more than 70 million of my fellow Americans, I watched the presidential debate Monday night. It’s hard to expect more from the context, but it was very negative.
It’s one of the reasons I almost never watch television news. You can make a good argument for viewing the debates. This is a historic election, and voters should stay informed. But in general watching TV news is a terrible way to do so.
All the News That’s Fit to Skew
Tune in, and it’s easy to believe the world is getting worse and worse—more poverty, more crime, more violence than ever. It’s like a long litany of worry and fear, interrupted by commercials about scary medical conditions.
Both cable and network news have a negativity bias. Same with most talk radio. News organizations are predisposed to show you negative news because fear triggers the more primitive parts of our brains and keeps our eyes glued to the threat.
To make matters worse, their industry is in decline. So the media increasingly appeal to fear in order to deliver eyeballs to their advertisers.
Dan Sullivan and Peter Diamandis talk about this in the “Evidence of Abundance” episode of their Exponential Wisdom podcast.
It’s Better out There Than You Think
Against what news anchors are always saying, Diamandis (an MIT and Harvard trained medical doctor) shares numerous data points that demonstrate things are actually better than ever, have been getting better for a long time, and will continue to do so.
Just consider this:
- The number of annual hours worked continues to fall.
- The number of democracies in the world continues to rise.
- The number of people enslaved continues to fall.
- Violent crime rates continue to fall.
- The number of wars continue to decrease.
- World life expectancy continues to rise.
- Pay and college degrees awarded to women continue to rise.
You can check out the charts on Diamandis’ website and read more about them in his excellent book Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think. Things are far better out there than we’re led to believe. And they’re actually improving, not getting worse.
4 Steps to Escape the Media Trap
So how can you keep from being infected by negativity bias? It creates so much fear and unproductive anxiety about the future. Here’s a four-step action plan to escape the media trap.
- Recognize the slant. Television news is biased—but probably not in the way you think. We tend to think the news is politically biased (and it is, on both sides). But it’s also biased in terms of its negative orientation.
Practice intentional skepticism. I am not a big fan of skepticism, normally. But it’s warranted when it comes to television news. The media is focusing on the facts that fit their narrative. And they often overlook or intentionally suppress facts that don’t fit their storyline.
Keep things in perspective. Television news not only spins stories, it blows many out of proportion. Ask yourself, “Is this a big problem—or one that only seems big because the reporting is so ubiquitous?” For example, when we hear about a terror threat, we have to remember we are more likely to die in traffic, drown in a bathtub, or be struck by lightning than killed in a terrorist attack.
Diversify your input. Make sure you get your news from more than one source. Listen to opposing view points. Interact with people that disagree with you, not to convince them but to learn from them.
Fear is an unbelievable waste of emotional resources and productive time. Aren’t our lives and goals are worth far more than contributing to the marketshare of gloom peddlers and fear mongers?