Jeremy Sarber

Is it time to quit watching the news?

Years ago, I spoke to a sanctuary full of young Christians at a conference about social media’s potential dangers. I suggested they be cautious if they choose to use sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Teenagers, I explained, are impressionable, and social media amplifies the peer pressure they already face.

Later in the day, during a question-and-answer session, one woman asked me, Why not encourage young people to avoid social media altogether?” At the time, I wasn’t ready to take such an absolute position. I still wanted to give these platforms the benefit of the doubt.

My mind, however, has since changed.

If you’ve ever read Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves To Death—and you should—you probably know where I’m going with this. Social media isn’t healthy for many reasons, but it’s the perpetual barrage of useless information that leads me to believe we should just quit. To be clear, I’m speaking to all people, not just young people.

Based on the same principle, I’ll go one step further and recommend we quit news media. The problem with most of the news we consume daily is that it comes to us with minimal context and almost no personal relevance.

First of all, we don’t typically get the whole story. It’s nearly impossible to fit an event’s full context into a 500-word article or 2-minute television segment. Therefore, we’re left forming opinions when we don’t have all of the necessary facts. Frankly, the media may very well leave out parts of the context intentionally. It’s what we call media bias. Media sources aren’t necessarily lying to us, but they may have the incentive to withhold information.

Second and even more important, most of the news we consume day after day has no bearing on us. As Neil Postman writes, Most of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action.” Think about it. Let’s say you watch the morning news and see a story about—I don’t know—President Trump tweeting disparaging remarks toward Joe Biden. How does learning that information affect you? Oddly enough, it entertains you enough to keep watching the news. It gives you something to think about and perhaps talk about later, but it doesn’t change your course. It doesn’t alter your day in any meaningful way. Your day will continue just as you originally planned. Nothing has changed.

That’s what I mean when I say news media—social media is no different, by the way—doesn’t typically have any personal relevance. It’s little more than a bizarre form of entertainment. We are addicted to both news and social media for reasons that are less than beneficial. Postman aptly observes, Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education, and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.”

On the epitaph of this generation,” Paul Washer warned, it will say ENTERTAINED TO DEATH,” and I fear both he and Postman are right. We are entertaining ourselves to death, but we don’t even realize it because, well, we have seemingly reasonable justifications for scanning the headlines and scrolling Facebook’s newsfeed every hour or two. We open Facebook to keep up with family and friends. We check the news because we’re adults, and that’s what adults do.

It makes you wonder how humanity survived 6,000 years without global news networks or social media websites. How did people stay in touch with their families? How did they learn what’s happening on the other side of the planet at any given moment?

Let me suggest an experiment. Avoid all news and social media for one week. Better yet, make it two weeks. You’ll probably need the first week to move past that fear that you’ll miss something vital. You won’t, but that fear will likely gnaw at you for a few days. Then, you can spend the second week examining how your life is different without the constant noise of politics, bad news, controversy, and updates on your aunt’s Candy Crush gameplay.

I believe you’ll witness your blood pressure decrease. Your mind will find more peace than before. You’ll experience greater serenity. Perhaps you’ll spend more time praying and reading Scripture. You’ll certainly give more attention to the present moment, the people around you, and the relatively small world in which you actually live. I believe your life will soon become simpler, quieter, less stressful even if you didn’t think you were stressed, and altogether more enjoyable.

If you’re feeling exceptionally bold, go ahead and unplug the TV, cancel your Netflix account—you shouldn’t support a company promoting and profiting from child pornography anyhow—and block your access to YouTube. Read a book. Take a walk. Talk to your husband or wife. Play with your children. If you can’t overcome the temptation to stare at a screen, watch a few sermons or videos from The Bible Project. It’s up to you.

This year, as violence, destruction, and lawlessness erupted throughout this country, my spirit quickly became troubled. More than that, I felt frustrated. Day after day, headline after headline, I saw hypocrisy and mass delusion on a scale that surpasses anything I’ve seen before. I was witnessing vivid manifestations of the biblical truth that says the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers (2Co 4:4). Though I’m not surprised by anything I’ve seen, I will confess my frustration.

But then, I took a walk through the neighborhood. I live in a small Indiana town of fewer than 7,000 people. If I ignored the face masks and mainstream media begging for my attention, I wouldn’t have known the nation is imploding. Speaking of face masks, if it weren’t for news and social media, no one in the entire town would have known there was a so-called pandemic. If not the for panic instilled by mass media, all 6,800 of us would have remained entirely unaffected by COVID-19. Maybe a couple of people would have talked about their severe flu cases this year, but that would have been its end.

This realization left me wondering, Why do I bother? I left social media long ago, but I still frequently checked the news. We assume we need to know what’s happening in the world without ever pausing long enough to ask ourselves why. If the news we think we need to know doesn’t have any direct, personal relevance, why do we need to know it? If this news doesn’t have any bearing on my day-to-day activities and only makes me feel worse for knowing, why bother?

Again, humanity survived thousands of years without knowing current events beyond one’s local community. We could still survive. I don’t need to know about riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I’d rather know how my next-door neighbor is doing. I don’t care to see photos of my third cousin’s cat on Facebook. If I’m genuinely interested, I’ll visit her and see the cat in person.

I suppose news and even social media have their place, but I’m increasingly convinced they do more harm than good these days. Keep in mind that I’m primarily speaking to Christians. I’m talking to those who have limited investment in this world. We set our minds on things above, not on earthly things (Col 3:2). For we do not have an enduring city here; instead, we seek the one to come (Heb 13:14). If that’s the case, why should we consume our minds with earthly things with little or no relevance?

By the first century, the Roman Empire had unknowingly built the ideal environment for spreading the gospel. Because many nations fell under the Empire’s umbrella, Christian missionaries could cross borders without hindrance. Because of sophisticated Roman roadways, evangelists were able to travel with ease, taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth (Ac 1:8).

Perhaps in another time and place, mass media could be a similar conduit for truth, but it doesn’t appear to be now. Instead, television and the Internet have successfully permeated every facet of our culture with evil. Some of it is blatant, while much of it is subtle. Godless secularism and false teachings no longer need to worm their way into households because we open the door wide and invite them to come inside (2Ti 3:6). We pay good money for this.

If you turn to the end of the Bible, you will read of Christ binding Satan for a thousand years (Rev 20:2). The Lord throws him into the abyss, so he can no longer deceive the nations until the thousand years are completed (Rev 20:3). Then, we read these words: After that, he must be released for a short time.

Before human history comes to a close, Satan must be released to deceive the nations (Rev 20:3). Could he have a more effective tool at his disposal than mass media?

I don’t know whether we are in that particular stage of redemptive history or not. Dispensationalists would disagree, but I’m not here to argue eschatology. I only want you to see the potential moral and spiritual impact of news and social media. Whatever their influence, it spreads quickly and widely.

I encourage you to at least consider the experiment I’ve suggested. Take a week or two to unplug. Avoid the 24-hour news cycle. Stay away from all social networks. Instead, invest more of your time and attention in your local community and church. They represent the world in which you live better than Facebook friends you haven’t seen in twenty years or political events on the other side of the country.

I believe you’ll find my challenge emotionally, mentally, and spiritually rewarding. God did not design us to swim in a sea of irrelevant strife and controversy. He did not create us to flood our otherwise quiet and uncomplicated lives with hundreds, if not thousands of useless tidbits of information day after day. Try to imagine what life was like before every story was breaking news and people shared every detail of themselves online. Then, strive to live that way again, at least for a little while.

Let me know how it goes. May God bless your pursuit of peace.