Let’s face it: The news doesn’t stop happening just because you’re overwhelmed. And trying to stay on top of what’s happening quickly, via only your social media feed, can trap you inside an echo chamber.
So how can an average person stay informed? In the midst of quarantine, maybe you’ve considered learning how to speed-read. Others say that, to save precious minutes, you should listen to brainy podcasts at double or triple speed.
But those tricks and techniques are pretty antisocial and inward-directed. And they neglect one of the most valuable resources already at your fingertips: your totally brilliant, totally hilarious friends.
If you’re looking to make sense of the world, why not gather your smartest peers together—on Zoom or Whereby, for the moment—to unpack stories big and small?
So don’t bother muddling through the Financial Times on your own—let that college friend who actually passed Econ do it for you. Don’t know the difference between a caucus and a cactus? Have someone else explain the Democratic primary in Nevada.
The idea is to conquer and divide. Some of your pals can grab a magazine, or section of the newspaper, that matches their own interests and areas of expertise. Dig into online essays exploring anti-racism, or break down the latest efforts to find a vaccine for COVID-19. Every thirty minutes or so you take a break and explain what you’ve learned to the group, doing your best to both educate and KISS (keep it simple, stupid).
Here are a few concrete tips to show you how it can work.
1. Form an unbeatable squad
Think of your news-reading social circle as the world’s most unbeatable trivia team. You don’t want a bunch of people who all share the same interests and backgrounds. What you need is a quirky crew who all have different passions, from sports to finance, real estate, politics, and social justice.
Your weekly news-reading squad is like a team of very ordinary superheroes, all with different backgrounds, interests, and skills.
Maybe there’s a nurse who has been following the ever-changing pandemic data, and who also has frontline experience. Maybe one of your friends is an urban studies major who loves geeking out over local government and pop science. And why not invite your co-worker who has been out in the streets protesting for the past weeks, and who can eloquently explain what “abolishing the police” might actually mean?
2. Gather your materials
You know who you’ll be reading with—but the next question is what to read.
If a few of your friends subscribe to a hefty weekend newspaper, try to conquer all of the sections—including the ones that you might ordinarily find uninteresting, or above your head. Even if Sunday Styles seems irrelevant in the current moment, make sure to add a little levity to your team-reading. Balance is key.
With a diverse team helping to explain the things they know best, you’ll all get a whole lot smarter.
Bring stories from Wired and Fast Company, Art in America and Buzzfeed into the mix. See what the people you trust and follow on Twitter are reading and sharing. On your own, you’d be drowning in all of this news. But with a diverse team, you’re about to get a whole lot smarter—and fast.
3. Keep it serious, but make room for breaks
The major stories of the day deserve the lion’s share of your attention—from systemic racism and police brutality to the ongoing ravages of COVID-19. And there are the other ongoing issues that have been nudged off the front page for the moment: climate change, gun control, and reproductive rights among them.
But we’d argue that it’s also important to balance the serious headlines with a dose of fun and absurdity. After all, laughter often remains the best medicine, even in the midst of a crisis. And it’s important to balance self-care with your desire to stay up-to-date on the news.
So task one of your friends with poring through the newspaper’s Weddings or “Modern Love” archives and sharing the most heartwarming (or ridiculous) story they can find… then ask them to perform it aloud. Have someone else comb through the culture pages—or the endless ‘What to Stream When You’re Stuck at Home’ blog posts—and come back with the one movie, book, or album that everyone should check out in the coming week.
And why not have the guy who actually got a B+ in high-school physics try to explain that super cool, super confusing story about how NASA discovered a new black hole?
4. Gamify your good time
When you’re team-reading the news, presentation is everything. It’s not easy to take a complex story and break it down in a way that’s quick, informative, and bite-sized.
There’s no need to get a stopwatch out, but set some basic rules for how long each of your friends will have to share what they’ve just discovered. Add extra marks for each unbelievable statistic that’s unearthed, and bonus points for every time someone gets the whole group fired up for a healthy debate.
It’s not easy to take a complex story and break it down in a way that’s quick, informative, and bite-sized.
Of course, incentives help, as does a little healthy competition. Did your friend totally nail his explanation of New York’s #CancelRent movement… or finally manage to school you on how the hell blockchain works? When your local bar or cafe is finally open again, you can all owe her a beer or very fancy coffee.
5. Keep the discussion rolling
Don’t let the momentum stop when you’ve signed out of Zoom.
Start a group text, or Google chat, where everyone can follow up on that week’s news. (Use Pocket as a handy way to keep track of things that catch your eye.) Share intriguing articles, insightful Twitter threads… and the occasional cute cat GIF.
As various degrees of lockdown continue during the pandemic, we’re all faced with a dual challenge: Our loved ones often feel very far away, right at the moment when the world is more overwhelming than ever.
And while the news may be complex, infuriating, and downright confusing—it’s a bit easier to understand with a little help from your friends.