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October 17, 2016 5:21 AM   Subscribe

Fear illusions "We start receiving notifications on our phone as soon as these disasters happen. So there's a false sense of involvement that we didn't have 150 years ago."
posted by bitmage (12 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
My college-aged daughter came to me with her iPhone recently and flat out asked me to turn off the CNN notifications. She didn't even know how she turned them on but explained they caused her a great deal of anxiety every time she saw the CNN badge pop up on her lock screen because it meant something bad had happened.
posted by photoslob at 5:41 AM on October 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

Finding the right balance between being aware of what's happening, being connected, and being oversaturated with the misery of others is a difficult thing. My partner has recently stopped paying attention to the news for the same reason photoslob's daughter gave: the constant exposure was bad for her mental health.

Obviously that's something that has to be decided on an individual basis, and it's probably related to all manner of other things (my partner can't stand knowing what time it is when she wakes up at night, I have to check the clock when I wake up at night or I feel lost and disconnected).

But even as a self admitted news junkie I do feel sometimes overwhelmed, and I've noticed that my mood is unduly influenced by events that have no impact on me and people I've never met and never will meet.
posted by sotonohito at 5:49 AM on October 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Just a reminder: one feature that many people forget about and/or do not realize is available on their phones is the DND (Do Not Disturb) feature. Most smart-phones have a setting that will restrict all notifications, incoming calls, texts, etc. when this feature is turned on. My phone automatically goes into this mode after 11 p.m. on weekdays.

Also, maybe this is a bit off topic, but I've found that having the right notification sound and/or setting your notifications to vibrate is a way to reduce stress. Every individual will have their own preference with regards to what notification sounds they find appealing, but whenever I'm in public, I am amazed at the types of notification sounds that people will set on their phones.

I was at the grocery store earlier this week and someone had their text alert sounds set so that it was the sound of an emergency submarine noise: AAHHHOOGA AHHHHOOGA!! That sound. Having that go off whenever someone sends me a text, would give me nightmares.
posted by Fizz at 5:56 AM on October 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

> Having that go off whenever someone sends me a text, would give me nightmares.

I'll go out on a limb and guess that the intent is precisely to bother other people with it. Some people are constantly looking for socially acceptable ways to annoy the fuck out of their neighbors.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 6:07 AM on October 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Perhaps CNN just looks for new ways to do what they've always done.
posted by lagomorphius at 6:19 AM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Just change your CNN alert tone to 'Yakkity Sax'. It makes every emergency disasterlarious!
posted by sexyrobot at 7:10 AM on October 17, 2016 [8 favorites]

I noticed a version of this myself over the summer. I was brought up in the UK which over the years of my youth was subject to a number of terrorist attacks relating to the Northern Irish troubles, including at least one fatal attack near my family home. This summer I was on holiday in Bavaria when a gunman started shooting people one Friday evening in Munich. The difference in the reporting was startling. Actual IRA attacks were reported virtually all in the past, ie they were things that were done, usually bombs, they were reported, causalities were given, politicians were rolled out to condemn the cowardice, there was a sort of standard approach for each one that become almost parodic. They were much less likely to happen in real time. People might get angry or call them wankers or whatever but it almost felt like part of a regular event that went on and was largely at a distance. The Munich attack was very different. There was footage from mobile phones on TV within an hour of the point the guy started shooting, there was misreporting of gunshots from various locations, the shooter's location couldn't be pinpointed, the immediate police response was broadcast and it was evident that they were not in full control of the situation, there was actual footage of crowds of people being escorted out of buildings by armed and wary police officers. Then they started to get live responses and comments from police and politicians, the atmosphere felt totally different, much more immediate, much more threatening (and I should emphasise I was quite far from Munich). It felt a lot more dangerous, I guess a lot less like the state was in control while than it had in the terrorist attacks of my youth. I can really see why this makes people feel they are much more threatened.
posted by biffa at 7:22 AM on October 17, 2016 [10 favorites]

Postman, I think, nailed this phenomenon pretty well in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Even then, with the 24-hour news cycle in its infancy, and well before smart phone alerts--or even wide-spread internet access--he was concerned about what he called the information-action ratio. He considers the telegraph to be the invention that really began the change. Before the telegraph, you only got very local news quickly, and if you heard of a tragedy that just happened, it was something that you could do something about. A house burns down? Offer the family a place to stay. Help build a new home. Someone dies? Attend the funeral. Make food for the family. There's a child missing? Join the search party. Anything urgent was also local. But with the telegraph, it was possible to hear about horrible tragedies--much worse than anything your own community was likely to experience--right away. Information gets worse at the same time that your ability to do anything about it goes down. As communication technology gets better and faster, the information-action ration gets more extreme. I hear about more tragedies, more often, from further away. It's not just in the evening news or tomorrow's newspaper, like in 1985. It's in a phone alert while it's still happening. The I-A-R is approaching infinity to zero. I have all the information, and can't do a damn thing about any of it. Thus: an understandable sense of a loss of control, and therefore anxiety.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:49 AM on October 17, 2016 [23 favorites]

There seems to be an increasing realization that there is such a thing as 'over informed'. This really wasn't possible until very recently, but with the advent of cable news and now the internet, there are clearly significant negative effects of excess news exposure, particularly given news' predilection towards the negative (if it bleeds, it leads, etc.) What's more, there's only so much you can coherently consume and integrate.

I think younger folks get this almost instinctively, but to older folks this is still something very new. I think news overexposure to seniors (who have more time to watch TV) contributes to the anxiety and paranoia that produces the current republican insanity.

The future belongs as much to the filters as to the content creators.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:06 AM on October 17, 2016 [10 favorites]

If people are able to respond to pseudo-knowledge ('looks like A Bad Thing happened somewhere I've never been over things I'm semi-interested in, I know nothing more than this') with actual connection, it's survivable in the long term. If your way of dealing with 'information overload' is to chat about it online -- which is just different-information overload -- then you're in trouble in the long run.

David Foster Wallace's 9/11 piece is in some ways about this. It is beautiful and sad, too.
posted by waxbanks at 8:11 AM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

This reminds me of Kattulus's comment about Cyborg Deer Stress.
posted by JDHarper at 8:57 AM on October 17, 2016 [6 favorites]

JDHarper: This reminds me of Kattulus's comment about Cyborg Deer Stress.

Yup, this is exactly that - we can be aware of so much more disasters, danger and death than ever before, often reported in hyperbolic fashion as if this is TRULY THE WORST THING EVER! Traumatic information overload.

It would be amazing if we could bring back the Fairness Doctrine with an added "sanity balance," in that for every 2 minutes of traumatic news, there had to be at least 1 minute of something positive and happy.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:51 AM on October 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

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