Every time you get outraged, someone makes money.
Your outrage has a market value to a lot of people. They wouldn’t be crass enough — or honest enough — to put it that way, but it’s the truth.
Did you see what [Fill in the Blank] did today? Doesn’t that infuriate you? Isn’t it terrible? Aren’t you angry about it?
It doesn’t matter what the subject is. It doesn’t matter whether the news is fair or completely honest. It doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong. All that matters is that you stay outraged — so the companies which make our mass media and social media can keep making money.
Why do you think you get these services for free? It’s because you are their product. Social media companies and news media companies deliver your attention to advertisers. See? You are their product. As long as you’re paying attention, it doesn’t matter to them what you’re saying or thinking. They’re making money.
Outraging people about collective problems — things they can do nothing about — is popular, because it’s easy. I’m less interested these days in sparking political outrage and I’m more interested in talking about things individuals can choose to change by their personal decisions.
I come from a background in the news media, but I worked in newspapers at a time when the Outrage Machine hadn’t taken over. In the day of 24-hour cable news and social media which seems to suck some people in every hour of the day, that has changed.
CNN wants you outraged. Fox News wants you outraged. MSNBC wants you outraged. They all have a story to sell — and they relish an outrageous story the most because it attracts the most viewers. You might think the news outlet that agrees with you is preaching truth and it’s those other horrible people who are lying, but you’re missing the point. Yes, they have a point of view — because that’s popular with their target audience — but they don’t exist to make you happy. They exist to sell ads and make money.
There was a time when I wrote stories here which outraged people. Why did I do that? Well, it’s what everybody was doing and it attracted the readership of people who agreed with me. It gave me a larger readership. It had Rush Limbaugh and other national pundits talking about one of my stories. It got me new followers.
Isn’t that what this is all about?
After several years of pursing that path, I realized that it wasn’t where I needed to be. I don’t believe it’s where you need to be either — as a content producer or as a media consumer. (I lost about 75 percent of my old regular readers after I quit writing about outrage all the time, but I still know it was the right thing to do. I’m writing for an entirely different audience today.)
I try to see everything in the world through the lens of one key question. I’m not always successful in doing this. Sometimes I still get sidetracked. But I try to ask myself whether there’s anything I can do about something. If something is within my control, it might be worth me spending time and effort on. If something is outside of my control, it’s almost certainly not worth my time or energy.
Can I do anything about the partisan political games in Washington? No, I can’t. As you were growing up, you were fed a lie. You were told that you had a responsibility to learn all you could about what’s going on in the world, because — you were told — you could change things.
You can’t change things in politics. Even if you could magically get Candidate A elected instead of Candidate B, it’s a lie that anything of substance is going to change. Politics is a waste of your time and energy. It’s nothing but entertainment — and you’re kept tied to it by the media keeping you outraged, so you will keep watching ads.
So what’s worth your time?
Those are the things I try to write about here, from the vantage point of one person struggling to make himself a better and more emotionally healthy person. You can control how you treat other people. You can control who you choose to love. You can control whether you pursue better mental health or not. You can control whether you choose to follow the crowd’s values or pursue values that will last and bring you real joy and happiness.
Learn to ask yourself my question. It’s simple:
Can I do anything about this thing?
If you can do something you it, consider whether it’s worth your time and attention. If you can’t do anything about it, learn to move on. Turn your television off. Don’t get caught up in the outrage of the moment. Don’t read your friends’ outraged commentary about whatever they’re angry about today.
You don’t have enough time in this life. You have more work to do than you realize to wake up and see the world around you honestly, much less to become emotionally healthy. It’s easy to marinate in the emotions of outrage, but it’s useless — and it wastes the precious time you have left here in life.
Place a higher value on your time and your attention. You don’t have to be “productive” by the world’s standards, but you do need to know which things matter and which things don’t.
If you can change something — if it can contribute toward creating a better life for yourself and those you love — then it might be worth your time. But if you’re just outraged about something you can do nothing about, you are wasting your precious time.
Turn off the Outrage Machine. Pay attention to the things which are going to matter.