Media abstinence improves mental wellbeing

Media abstinence improves mental wellbeing

Paul Doran calls on us to question what we see in national and international news media and to re-examine the role of social media.

By Paul Doran


Having spent 20 years working in media, marketing and public relations. I have always consumed news in a broad cross-section of forms. Lately, the first-half of this year, I had become frustrated, angry, even anxious and worried what would appear on the news each day (especially in front of my two kids).

Here are some of the more significant drivers behind my decision:

Social media's golden age is behind us

Organic reach is dead; you now have to wade through branded content, ads, influencers, products and paid media to discover anything meaningful on most channels.

As communicators, keen not to be left behind, we've all jumped to the defence of social media for the past five years.

While social media has democratised conversation and been a powerful force for good, in news media, it’s become the byword for lazy journalism and an outlet for the angry anonymous troll.

Declining journalistic resources to fact check, question and hold-to-account, mean we are now fed a 24hr diet of speculative, evolving news tittle-tattle.

So, my media abstinence is in part driven by the fact I have more important people and positive things going on around me, which are more deserving of my attention.

Media manipulation normalised in political sphere

What appear to be ill considered tweets, testosterone fulled threats (which never get carried out) posturing and schoolyard bullying are what we see and read every week.

Putin and Trump are masters at creating a constant state of change and of unease. Their seemingly erratic statements and declarations do nothing but confuse. This state of flux means they retain control (and our attention) as we all give up trying to second-guess and wait with baited breath for the next instalment. It's farcical. But yet we tune in each day.

I'm not sure who or what is to blame. What I do know is I have control over what I see, hear, read and am influenced by.

We live in a time when news has become the entertainment. When presenters have become the stars (Maitlis/Preston/Paxman) and a tweet can empty Oxford Street. We need to calm some of the hysteria. The situation online is not much better, as we are no longer able to see a balanced view of stories. Algorithms, whose real purpose is to serve us products and advertising, increasing deliver a polarising view of world news.

Your recipe for a New Year media diet

Cold turkey

The initial experiment was an easy one. I had returned from a two week family holiday in Southern Spain at the end of June, so that gave me a headstart. Being relaxed, I'm guessing, also made me more able to focus on what was important. So I just went cold-turkey. It seemed and has now proven to have been a good thing.

Attention protection

I've always worked hard to protect my attention and focus. I've never allowed any (or many) notifications on any technology device. I meditate and practice mindfulness every day. And regularly spend time in nature for creative inspiration. (and to walk the dog)

The companies I work with pay me to have both insight and foresight. So consuming relevant industry or trade media has remained essential to keep up.

Reach for the off button

Give it go. It’s a great time of year to try something new. Shift your focus to family, your friends, neighbours, see what's going on in your local community. Imagine if we all did that.

About Paul Doran

Paul founded and ran Switch Communications for 11 years, a networked-based marketing communications agency. Two years ago, he realised his real love was doing, not managing campaigns. He now operates as a consultant marketing or creative director, working with companies looking to change direction.

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