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News is to the mind what sugar is to the body
Posted On 5/5/2013 8:41:35 AM By-Sanjana
This Article is copied from The Times of India (5th May 2013)

Last month, Swiss writer Rolf Dobelli created a stir in media circles by propagating in an op-ed his well-known aversion to news. Author of books such as The Art of Thinking Clearly and What Do You Do For A Living?, Dobellis works examine the meaning of success and the role of randomness in business and life. But Dobelli is most famous for not consuming news because, he believes, it is toxic. He spoke to Chidanand Rajghatta about his anti-newsism.

Rolf Dobelli, thank you for talking to The Times of India. As you might know, it is the largest English daily in the world...

Wow. I didnt know that...

Well, see what you miss by not reading news...

(Laughter on both sides) No, no, no...I know the paper...we get abstracts, and the company I have does some business with you. But we didnt know that it was the largest paper.

When did you first realize that you could live without news?

Oh, for several years now. I got the idea from my friend Nassim Taleb who wrote The Black Swan because he pretty much functions without news. I thought it was a very good concept, saves a lot of time and makes a lot of sense, News does not allow you to make better decisions about important things in life. It does not offer any competitive advantage. So I havent consumed news since then and it has been a very good journey. News is to the mind what sugar is to the body. It is not good.

But you do consume news since you have a Twitter account and you sometimes google events. Are you saying a better way to consume it is not to have the news served to you but to go out and hunt for it when you want to know something ?

Exactly. I think you should be in control. Why should it be up to the journalists? Journalists have a job that is creating content that sells good advertising and circulation. So automatically that filters out certain news and prefers certain others. So I would rather not let the journalist do it but do it myself.

You realize you are endangering my job?

I dont think I have that kind of influence. The craving for news is so deep that this is not going to be a revolution that spreads although many people agree with my views. I think it is too deeply engrained. People want to know who sleeps with whom, about bomb explosions and airplane crashes.

You think there is something called news addiction?

I believe so...news goes to the reward centre of the brain. In evolving stories like 9/11 or the Boston attack, people want to know by the hour how the story is going to continue. It is very addictive. But like with every addiction you can break away from it for a long time and cure it. Then the reward center in the brain dries up.

Let me put you in a situation...a huge volcanic eruption in Europe shuts down air travel. How would you manage not knowing this news if you were traveling?

You know you hit on the only one thing that happened to me in the last few years...when I made a really bad decision . I actually drove to the airport and the flight was cancelled and I didnt know. I lost two hours going to the airport and back.

So it isnt important to be connected ?

No, not to the news cycle, no. In fact, I could have gotten around it. I was stupid not to have given my phone number to the airline.

Well, the news business itself is changing. On social media people are not only consuming news but also generating and distributing news. How do you avoid that? What about your Twitter account?

I dont have an opinion yet on social media. What I know is when it is personal it is relevant to you. A car crash somewhere is not relevant to me, it has no bearing on my life. I dont need to know it. Such news causes stress. On Twitter, I have maybe 1,300 followers and I follow zero people because I dont want to know any news.

Its one thing not wanting to know breaking news. But wouldnt you want to know knowledge, ideas, trends? Arent these an aggregation of news?

Knowledge can never be an aggregation of news. You cannot build knowledge on news. You cannot gain knowledge from events. What happened in the mind of the Boston bombers or what is the structure of their motivation? That is knowledge for me. And you cant get that from all these pieces of news. I get it from reading long articles.

But surely you can! Those long articles are built on disaggregated pieces of news. That big picture is a connection of news dots.

Yes, news is dots. Knowledge is the connection.

So to make the connection you do need dots?

Yes, well, no. The connection is good enough. If it is explained to me why the first world war happened, I dont need WWI happening outside my window.

It seems to me that you are saying breaking news is useless....

Yes, the worst is television. They have 30 seconds to make a point. The pictures are scandalous and it is very bright and very loud. It is the worst form of journalism. The lea
 
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