By Tyler Tervooren — Subscribe to updates here.
Oh my God! Have you heard? Texas is overrun with Ebola. It’s total madness and even the children have taken up arms to loot and pillage. Is this Godless killer of a disease coming for you next? Probably!
Sorry, I got a little carried away. Actually, there’s just a single Ebola patient in Dallas, your children are safe, and you can de-clutch your hand from your chest and clear the look of shock and horror from your face.
This was the scene painted for me by the large, flat screen TV so carefully mounted directly in front of my face and tuned to CNN—the world’s leader in
news fear mongering while I nursed my knee back to health on a treadmill this morning.
Thankfully, I was able to reach the remote mid-workout so my heart rate could return to being affected only by the running and not the panic. And, when I stepped outside the gym, what did I find? None other than a crisp, beautiful fall morning. The sun was out, people in suits scurried to work and, as far as I could tell, not a single person slumping over, ready to die and take the whole town with them.
I took a deep breath and walked home. Everything is going to be okay. Just to be sure, though, I looked up Ebola symptoms, treatments, and contagion rates, and learned that there is an (approximately) 0% chance that I or anyone I know will ever get it. The sky will remain blue!
But, if the only exposure you got to the outside world was a 20-minute news report each morning, that hysteria may have swayed you to believe your life and the lives of everyone you love are in great danger. Everyone’s becoming an Ebola Zombie™, and you’re next!
It’s unfortunate, but The News is no longer a useful or accurate place to get the news. We’ve worked ourselves into a culture where the way to make the most money from the news is to get as many people as possible to watch it for as long as possible. And what seems to work best to meet that goal? There’s a 4-step process that most networks seem to follow:
- Find an interesting and potentially scary story.
- Report the most sensational part of it and suggest it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
- Report it over and over again until unverified opinions mysteriously become facts.
The next time you watch the news (and may it be by accident in a very long time from now), look for this pattern. You’ll see it.
But all this begs the question: How should you go about learning about what’s going on in the world. If not the news, what?
Here’s a short list of rules and tactics you can use to figure out what’s going on in the world without letting them consume you.
- First, take no more than 10 minutes, once a day, to scan the headlines of a local news site. If you find something interesting, scan the article. If not, all the better!
- Once you know what you want to learn, open the trusty ol’ Google, and search for 5-10 more articles from completely different sources. A quick read through 10 articles is like milking a cow and letting the cream rise to the top; the facts quickly separate themselves from the hyperbole.
- Once you have a basic understanding of the facts, decide if there’s something you can or should actually do with the information. If yes, take action! If not, go back to life as normal.
In my experience, networks like NPR, BBC, and Al Jazeera do a good job of actually reporting the news and leaving out most of the hysteria. They’re not immune to the hyperbole machine, though, so finding multiple sources for the same information is still important.
This is how, in just 10 minutes this morning, I went from knowing very little about Ebola to learning that an Ebola patient in Texas is no big deal, the risk to me is nearly non-existent, and the survival rate for Ebola in The United States, so far, is 100% despite its devastating effect in West Africa (because of the quality of healthcare here vs. there).
So, no, you’re not going to die from Ebola. Unless, that is, you’re driving while you read this. Then, there’s a statistically good chance it could be a contributing factor.
Tyler Tervooren explores social psychology and shares original research and insights about winning at life, work, and adventure by taking smarter risks. For more, join his Smart Riskologist Newsletter.