Follow me on a brief thought experiment.

Imagine an app that alerted you every time a violent crime were reported anywhere in the country. Let’s call it Crimely.

Crimely would work by tapping into the National Crime Information Center (the FBI’s sprawling database of US crime data) and watching for new violent crimes to be added. Upon detecting a new crime, Crimely would cause the user’s phone to vibrate and display details of the crime on the home screen: the nature and location of the crime, the names of any suspects, etc. Being a Crimely user might not be pleasant, but its users would be completely up-to-date on all the bad stuff happening in the country.

Would you want Crimely on your phone?

Obviously not. We know instinctively that such an app would be disastrous for its users' mental health. While it’s our civic duty to stay informed, no one wants (or needs) to be aware of every bad thing that goes on in the world. There’s nothing we can do about most of it anyway.

But what about our online news habit? Keeping current on the news takes 10-15 minutes a day. Yet most people spend far more time than that reading and watching the news, especially in the midst of a pandemic. There’s even a new word for anxiety-inducing online news consumption: doomscrolling.

Our time is precious, and the quality of our lives is largely determined by what we focus on. Get current on the big developments, perhaps with a “morning briefing”-style daily newsletter from a major newspaper. Then turn your focus to something you can control—like making the world a better place.