With social media we declare that healthy is hip, using hashtags and selfies to revel in our accomplishments. But I fear we’ve limited our scope of health to things that are easily bloggable. We’ve collectively ignored what might be one of our most important areas of health: our mental well-being.
Brains, much like the rest of our physical bodies, require periodic nourishment to effectively carry out day-to-day tasks. Our intellect needs sustenance, and the whole-food equivalent of that nourishment is high-quality information. People can only make decisions as good as the information they receive, and paying close attention to the caliber of media you choose to consume is essential to flourishing as a thinker.
Low-quality information, much like cheap mass-produced food, slows us down and fails to provide the intellectual diet we require to thrive. When we don’t discriminate the information we take in, we become vulnerable to reckless, noncritical thoughts and fail to be able to participate in our communities effectively.
Picture a man who visits a fast-food burger joint every day during his lunch hour. It’s a quick drive to the restaurant and each time he visits, he knows exactly what he will order: two greasy burgers and a tall soda.
But when you ask the man why he visits daily, it’s doubtful he will say his visits are inspired by the outstanding quality of his dollar-menu cheeseburgers. More likely, he visits the establishment for the same reason most people do – because the food is cheap, consistent, comforting and constantly available.
It doesn’t take health expertise to argue this man is less healthy than if he instead ate veggie plates for lunch. We recognize these kinds of food diets as poor health decisions, so why do we not hold our media diets to the same standard?
Some content producers distribute low-quality information akin to the way burger joints serve thousands of burgers per day – that’s no secret. This kind of information comes at us in obvious forms, in list articles such as Buzzfeed’s “The Thrilling Journey to Zayn Malik’s Gray Hair As Told By His Instagram,” and hides with clever disguises, in political slant pieces such as Huffington Post’s “The Status Quo Isn’t Working For Women in America” (Both Aug. 13, 2015).
With the advancement of the Internet and social media, these kinds of media have become more prominent than their high-quality alternatives. It’s becoming harder to differentiate the legitimate from the pretend, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.
Online media companies make money with your clicks, so producing sensational, viral content is not only easy; it’s incredibly profitable. Every time you choose to read, share or comment on low-quality pieces of media, you’re fueling the fire and making the people who own these websites richer.
These websites are the information equivalent to fast food, and they’ve popped up at every major online intersection.
Like the organic health foods and customized exercise plans we collectively brag about on social media, acquiring high-quality information requires extra time and effort. It often means ditching easily available low-quality information and dedicating yourself to finding something better.
Like the vegetable tray our daily burger eater would benefit from eating, high-quality media are often less exciting and initially bland. But like a good day at the gym, these media will leave you feeling great.
Some of my favorite sources include the New York Times, The Washington Post and NPR. The information you find here won’t garner you as many Facebook “likes” as that video of a baby elephant chasing a butterfly did, but the stories you’ll find will be interesting, relevant and enriching.
There’s nothing wrong with consuming fast-food information occasionally. But, at the risk of sounding like my tired high school health instructor, that information is best consumed when part of a well-rounded intellectual diet.
image via Gawker