The freedom in not knowing – The Boston Globe

QUITO, Ecuador

During those ancient, golden days of mainstream media dominance (say, 15 years ago), one of the undeniable thrills of being a reporter was knowing. We reporters (and editors, and compositors, and printers) would put a story to bed in the evening and then savor the delicious inside knowledge of murder convictions or campaign poll results or medical breakthroughs hours before our readers. Savvy Boston fans could call the Globe switchboard and learn the Red Sox scores right after the game because we were the people who knew.

Now, of course, there is no exclusive knowledge. News is shared the minute it happens, then further shilled or shamed minutes after that. In fact, the obsessive need to know has become a societal addiction, fed by an endless load of Internet clickbait. We are a nation fairly twitching with the compulsion to check the livestream, and it isnt healthy. So this month I have been experimenting with an even more rare and precious bliss state than knowing: not knowing.

Thirty days ago I made a deliberate choice not to expose myself to the news: not TV, not Twitter, not the Times. I didnt tell most of my friends because I knew the idea would be met with incredulity and scorn: How irresponsible to unplug when the Constitution is being shred to confetti! But I would be living for the month in Quito, Ecuador, 2,700 miles from Washington, and I knew that if ever I could extricate myself from the tangle of talking heads, this would be the time. Some people diet in January or stop drinking; I would try a different kind of cleanse.

The experience has been one of liberation and humility: freedom from the grasping, low-grade anxiety that signifies even mild addiction; sobering to learn how little the yammering madness in El Norte matters to the everyday lives of people here.

I find I most miss the news when I sit down with my morning coffee, the way some of my friends say they still miss having a cigarette when theyre at a bar. But as with most cravings, if I take a deep breath and wait it out, it will pass. Meanwhile the sparrows are trilling, the street vendors are selling mango slices and quail eggs, and the clouds are slipping down over Mt. Pichincha. I am reminded of the Paul Simon lyric: I get all the news I need on the weather report.

Occasionally a fragment of a current event will invade my attention, like the blast from a passing car radio. I thought I had shut off all my alerts, but Lessons from the Trump-Iran news cycle came through in an email from the Columbia Journalism Review (my finger hovers over the keys for a split second before I hit delete). Once I saw the unmistakable visage of Alan Dershowitz on my screen, and I knew the president was assembling his defense team. But did I know, or care, that (Breaking!) Hillary had dissed Bernie somehow, somewhere?

Unknowing is in many ways the natural order of things. We can never know about the truly big questions: When we will die; is there a God; what really happened at the end of The Sopranos?" We cant even know what will happen the moment after this one. Not knowing helps free us, if only a little, from our many assumptions and biases, leaving the door open to possibility. Not to mention the relief from endless speculation and catastrophizing about the future.

Obviously I believe in an informed citizenry, especially in these perilous times. I dont advocate unplugging from the news indefinitely, and Ill be back on the sauce myself by Sunday. But an occasional break say, a weekly screen Sabbath, or a Trumpless Tuesday could be a way to find the balance between ostrich oblivion and the roller-coaster of elation and dread we ride over Every. Tiny. Development. The information we consume is a diet no less than the Atkins plan or Whole 30. And if we are what we eat, many of us have been on a bloating binge of junk for at least the last three years. Happily, we have the power to decide for ourselves when the news is nourishing, and when its just a glut of empty calories.

Rene Loths column appears regularly in the Globe.

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The freedom in not knowing - The Boston Globe

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