Low-Information Diet

by Peter Saint-Andre


Today I had to run an errand and happened to turn on the radio at the top of the hour, so both my favorite jazz station and an AM station I listen to occasionally for baseball games had the news on. Something was happening somewhere! A terrorist attack in the Middle East, political wrangling in the District of Columbia, and other horrors - essentially the same stuff I might have heard on the radio the last time I listened a few years ago.

To what end? This is all mental junk food, designed to give me the intellectual equivalent of a sugar high so that I'll need to get dosed up again a few hours later.

Yes, I used to follow the news. Radio in the car, newspapers in print or on the computer, magazines on the plane, a few weekly TV programs. Political news, economic news, financial news, technology news. You name it, I consumed it.

Oh, I was informed, all right. Stuffed to the gills with facts and figures and opinions and perspectives. But was I happier for all that? Did I make wiser decisions? Was I a better person? Or was I just stressed out?

For the last year or two, I've been on a low information diet. You could even call me a recovering infoholic. Instead of skimming the surfaces of things that people in power think I should care about, I've been trying to dig down into the depths of what truly matters: love, friendship, community, art, science, wisdom, and the long-term projects I'm working on.

Instead of getting upset about the latest Internet security attacks, I help develop solutions. Instead of following the twists and turns of the stock market, I prefer an all-weather, low-maintenance approach called the permanent portfolio. Instead of feeling my blood boil over the skullduggery of politicians everywhere, I focus even harder on the team I work with and other communities where I can have a direct, positive influence.

It's true that you need to be somewhat aware of what's going on in the world, if only so that you can help defend what's important in your life. But I find that reading a few judiciously chosen analyses of longer-term trends tells me most of what I need to know. And, in any case, if something truly momentous happens I'll certainly hear about it. In the meantime, I'll continue to devote my time and energy to the projects and relationships that are within my span of control, and to studiously ignore everything else.

Peter Saint-Andre > Journal