News Lunch

News is to the mind what sugar is to the body. News is easy to digest. The media feeds us small bites of trivial matter, tidbits that don’t really concern our lives and don’t require thinking. That’s why we experience almost no saturation. Unlike reading books (which requires thinking), we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes, like bright colored candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to information overload that we faced 30 years ago with food intake. We are beginning to recognize how toxic news can be and we are learning to take the first steps toward a so-called “news diet”.

For almost ten years now, I have not read any newspapers, consumed any online news, watched TV nor listened to radio. I live completely without news, and can describe the effect of this freedom at first hand. In my book NEWS DIET, I list the most important reasons against news consumption and show you how to cope with the flood of information. Here is an idea of how we can escape the stultification by the news, not only as individuals but also socially. And it works like this:

Everyone has to eat. Especially lunch. Sometimes I eat alone in my office. That’s quick, and I can listen to an audio book on the side. Sometimes it’s a business lunch. And sometimes I meet with one or the other friend (and, yes, journalists are also part of it). No matter who my counterpart may be, I have gotten used to asking him this question first: If we fold the napkins after lunch, according to which criteria do we judge whether this lunch was a successful lunch? The answer is usually: If I have learned something true and relevant from my lunch partner (or he has learned it from me) that was previously unknown to me, i.e. new perspective that contributes to a better understanding of the world.

Such a lunch is particularly valuable and enjoyable when each partner concentrates on exactly one contribution. This allows you to go deep instead of scratching the surface. In addition, I learn how my counterpart deals with his topic, how he wrestles with it, how he wins insights from the topic – and vice versa. If the lunch partner is a journalist, he will tell me the most important story he is working on. Not two stories. Not three. But one. So I experience the nuances of the story, the grey areas, the generators of the event, the context and the attitude of the journalist (in short, the meta-information).

After fifteen minutes we change, and it’s my turn. He, in turn, learns from me about a problem – a single one, not two or three – that is currently bothering me. This can be the chapter of a book or an entrepreneurial idea. For fifteen minutes, too. The rest of the time until the espresso and the payment of the bill we fill with other topics or deepen the two themes from the beginning. I call this format “NEWS LUNCH”. After every NEWS LUNCH, I walk back to the office in a buoyant mood. Such a lunch has – at least for me – never been a flop.

It’s obvious to continue thinking about the idea of the NEWS LUNCH with the two fifteen-minute contributions and to open it up to more people who not only want fish, meat or vegetables, but also fresh ideas. This is how it could work: In a city, you rent a room or a restaurant where regular NEWS LUNCHES are to take place. Via an app or website, you can register for the NEWS LUNCH of the day (and pay immediately). It starts every working day at 12 noon. Two crisp lectures of fifteen minutes each and a healthy lunch. In concrete terms: a journalist presents his or her most important current story for fifteen minutes. One, not two or three. The focus is not on the headline, but on the context. The craft, i.e. how the journalist works on this story, the atmosphere, the coloring, must all be part of the presentation. The more local the story, the more relevant it will be for most participants.

Then a scientist (or a journalist, if he or she is also an expert) presents a story that would hardly make it into the media, because it develops slowly, is abstract, doesn’t offer bright images and can’t be personalized. This second lecture also lasts fifteen minutes. After the two lectures, there’s a healthy, speedy lunch – either self-service or served. The whole news lunch including food lasts 60 to 75 minutes.

What do you think people will be discussing during the meal? About the two topics, of course. There is no better way for intelligent table discussions. In addition, as a participant you meet new people every time who are also out to understand the “generators of the world”. In short, the NEWS LUNCH is a mental, culinary and social refinement of the lunch break.

Who should organize such NEWS LUNCHES? These could be restaurants, entrepreneurial individuals or the media houses themselves – it goes without saying that every NEWS LUNCH participant is a potential subscriber. In large cities, there is certainly room for several NEWS LUNCHES that outbid each other in competition. Over time, guests will know where the most interesting crowd gathers and where the most relevant contributions can be heard.

Perhaps the idea will grow into a movement that will spread to several cities. Suppose you’re in a foreign city, it’s lunchtime, and you don’t know anyone to go out for lunch with. Of course, you could sit alone in the corner of a McDonald’s and eat a hamburger. But what could be smarter than going to this city’s NEWS LUNCH? Guaranteed intelligent content, guaranteed healthy food, guaranteed exciting people. And all with a familiar procedure and at a fair price. Perhaps, who knows, the idea of the NEWS LUNCH will develop into a kind of global community without formal membership. A community of people who are fed up with the irrelevance and noise of the classic news and who are eager to better understand the world.

“Avoid trifling conversations” was one of Benjamin Franklin’s thirteen maxims. This is especially true at the table: a good lunch is nutritious in every respect.

Rolf Dobelli, March 2019

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