Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

When “staying informed” becomes an illusion

By Thomas V. Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | May 21, 2024

There exists a website which some people call X, but which I am too old to call anything but Twitter. I have to use that website for work sometimes, which is unfortunate because it plays to my addictive side. I can take or leave all those pretty pictures on Instagram, but give me a constant text-flow of (mostly bad) opinions and I can end up wasting a lot of time.

Recently, I found myself staying up far too late in a bout of futile, horrified Twitter scrolling. I did so despite knowing full well that if I really wanted to improve the situation I found so upsetting, I could do so by getting off my phone, praying for those involved, and going to bed. I’ve been working on self-knowledge, so the next day, I had to ask myself why.

I realized that I had been following the obscure impulse that if I just scrolled long enough to wrap my head around the situation, I might find the magic words to say so that error would be dispelled and charity reign. Absurd, obviously. Even serious reading and deep reflection wouldn’t accomplish that, so why would scrolling Twitter do it?

What it comes down to is that I was pursuing the illusion of control. I was anxious and disturbed about bad online behavior, and rather than surrender the situation to God, I wasted a significant amount of time trying to find some kind of closure.

Scrolling social media is, I think, just the most egregious manifestation of this tendency in our interaction with media covering current events. How often do we tell ourselves we’re fulfilling a civic duty under the vague banner of “staying informed”, when in fact we’re watching basically the same stories night after night? We see all the terrible things going on in the world, and gaze on in horror, anxiety, anger, or amusement.

We often act as though the world’s problems would be solved if only we could find the perfect “take”. The commentary cycle can be like a drug addiction, where we read things that take away our peace and then think we can regain our peace again by reading more of the same.

But if we recognize that we have little to no direct input or responsibility for a situation, then spending a lot of time reading about it might simply be indulging the vice of curiosity. It’s like with eating—we have to ask ourselves honestly whether we are consuming more than is necessary or useful.

For example, if I follow the presidential campaign very closely, am I really going to learn something new and surprising that will affect how I vote? How will reading every opinion about Pope Francis’s latest escapade help to solve the problems in the Church? At what point am I better off just praying and working at personal holiness according to the duties of my state in life?

I don’t pretend to know exactly the right level of information even for myself, let alone for everyone else. And it may be that I’m speaking counter to my worldly interests as the operator of a Catholic news and commentary site. The Church herself would never deny the importance of faithful commentary on the day’s pressing issues. But at the very least, I can say that we should avoid reading or listening to things that cause us to lose our peace —and that the Divine perspective on the world provided by Scripture and the mysteries of the Rosary is going to be more useful than the human perspective provided by an opinion piece.

When I think about my own vices when it comes to consuming media, I become more aware of my own responsibilities as a media producer as well. I don’t want to rob you, Catholic Culture reader, of your peace, either accidentally or for my own gain. More than that, I am thinking and praying about ways our commentary can help our readers (and us) to live the faith in a way that relates to the duties of our state in life—not just to have the correct opinions about current events that we can’t control.

I would love to hear your feedback on how we can do that, either better or in new ways.

Finally, please know that Catholic Culture is in the midst of our May fundraising campaign, appropriately themed around Mary, Queen of Peace. With little more than a week remaining, we are not even halfway to our $50,000 goal. Please consider supporting us if you value our work.

Thomas V. Mirus is Director of Podcasts for CatholicCulture.org, hosts The Catholic Culture Podcast, and co-hosts Criteria: The Catholic Film Podcast. See full bio.

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