Tuesday, 14 Jun 2016
The ubiquity of fear - Should we avoid reading and watching the news?
By Dr. Becky Spelman
Very few people would genuinely wish to roll back the Internet. The online world has given us a huge amount in terms of the availability to knowledge, the ability to communicate with friends and family all over the world, and a lot more. It’s also given us the ability to be on top of what’s happening everywhere, all the time – and that’s something of a mixed blessing!
Today, we are all painfully aware of the awful threat that terrorism poses. It often seems as though we are reminded of it every time we look at a news app on our phone, or read the paper on the Internet. We can, if we are so inclined, watch video coverage of terrorist attacks over and over and over again on YouTube – and some people do, perhaps to convince themselves that it’s really happening.
But how many of us remember that, even when we factor in the atrocities of recent decades, such as 9/11, the fact is that most countries around the world are actually experiencing less violence now than at any point in history? That might sound surprising, but it’s true.
Our brains have evolved to take in huge amounts of information, process it, and try to make sense of it. When we see something up close and personal, as we do when we are exposed to video footage of atrocities, when we see photographs of terrible things that have happened, or even when we just read about them, we often react emotionally as if those events had really taken place just in front of us, rather than far away. Intellectually, we might know that a particular event will never have a direct impact on us, but emotionally, we respond as if we were there – along with the adrenaline and physiological responses that heighten our sensitivity to stress.
So what’s the answer? Nobody is suggesting that there is never anything to worry about, or that it is not a good idea to be concerned about world affairs, but for our emotional health and well-being, it is important to disengage at least some of the time from the constant flood of information available to us with modern technology; to stand back and look at our own little corner of the world rather than at a screen.
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