Alain de Botton: "The News: A User's Manual" | Talks at Google


The news is everywhere. We can’t stop constantly checking it on our computer screens, but what is this doing to our minds?

We are never really taught how to make sense of the torrent of news we face every day, writes Alain de Botton (author of the best-selling The Architecture of Happiness), but this has a huge impact on our sense of what matters and of how we should lead our lives. In his dazzling new book, de Botton takes twenty-five archetypal news stories–including an airplane crash, a murder, a celebrity interview and a political scandal–and submits them to unusually intense analysis with a view to helping us navigate our news-soaked age. He raises such questions as Why are disaster stories often so uplifting? What makes the love lives of celebrities so interesting? Why do we enjoy watching politicians being brought down? Why are upheavals in far-off lands often so boring?

In “The News: A User’s Manual”, de Botton has written the ultimate guide for our frenzied era, certain to bring calm, understanding and a measure of sanity to our daily (perhaps even hourly) interactions with the news machine.


Date: January 22, 2020

36 thoughts on “Alain de Botton: "The News: A User's Manual" | Talks at Google

  1. Alain is brilliant ideator, adaptor and ideology-free thinker. His books and talks are eminently accessible. He has a flaw that vitiates his talks. Consequently his words begin to pall on the listeners. He speaks at breakneck speed, straining the salivary glands. And his voice is placed at a relatively high pitch, climbing higher to make a point rather than dipping lower. He is an enviably free spirit. He must free his voice so that it touches the heart and not pierce the eardrum alone.

  2. Not terribly fair to Chomsky. I think he just recognizes collusion as a frequent often proven thing in powerful institutions like major corporations and the government. I think the unconscious biases frequently fed by so inclined institutions he would recognize as even more insidious. However when someone like Snowden nails corrupt institutions in such a public way we're closer to being able to bring such corrupting people behind the scenes to justice put a stop to their plotting or at least dull its impact.

  3. Are there too many intellectuals, pseudo-intellectuals, theory hucksters gabbling in blogs, websites, think-tanks, you-tube videos, broadcast seminars, discussion panels, and  promoting latest books, papers, monographs etc ..? Hundreds and hundreds of them, of all hues and cries, sects and sanctions, theories and hypotheses. They are positively randy for perpetual forensic assessment and anthropological exegesis. There they all are in that endlessly refreshed column over there on the right of the screen >>>>>, They're after your 25 cents worth (intellectually, if not monetarily) .. endlessly picking apart notions of 'culture', and psychological behaviourism, like a gang of urchins cutting up worms with penknives.  No wonder there are armies of the confused and/or obsessed, all ranting at each other in comments sections from across the earth.. Like a man with his ear to the grandfather clock trying to find out how time works.    Whoops.. you see how easy it is to fall into it!

  4. To my ears he could reach more souls talking slower, or pausing once in a while, and possibly ending up with a shorter, clearer message – don't hate me for saying 🙂

  5. I found it interesting how he talked about envy. I never looked at envy in such that we could use it to find what we want to be. So in a way, we can use our envy to find our ambition. That's totally cool.

  6. Great talk that puts into words the anxious feeling I always get when I watch the news: a sense of confused meaningless in a mass of information that should (in most cases) have real importance in our lives. 
    I love the idea that information should be contextualised and analysed thematically, with the implications/ lessons in our own lives explored, and with suggestions for possible action. But I feel that having more bias in the news would add to the confusion and lack of orientation that we experience already. 

    I think news should be told in the words of those involved, or in photography/ film. Then, the biases are of those involved in the situations, the information can be contextualised better, and there'll be at least some extent of representation.
    Aljazeera's 'Witness' and VICE documentaries are quite good in this respect, although not perfect of course. But they instil curiosity and a sense of importance about the subject matter. Point is, I think social media will help the voices of those involved in events be heard better, to enable us to understand the reality, rather than the intrigues and technicalities that take up air time.
     Palestine is a key example. A lot more people have become attuned to the reality of the apartheid there because more voices from those involved are coming through in social media. But of course, these voices can be flooded with mindless droll. 

    I need to go to bed. 

  7. The most spectacular failure of AdB's talk was his omission of ”old school news” – which in very few instances is still surviving even today. A respectable ”old school” print media outlet – such as The New York Times – would provide virtually everything he complains it lacks: the basic information, all sorts of context, op-eds presenting multifaceted analysis, editorials/opinions, photojournalism (where applicable). Even special editions.
    This is still doable – and done – in both print and online (UK's The Guardian also produces some terrific pieces of journalism).
    The main culprit for the current status of ”The News” ain't ”The News”, for once – it's the public. Who rushed towards a ”fast news” menu, with all of its shortcomings. All that most of ”The News” has done was to respond to the demand of its audience, oftentimes at its own peril. But constantly refusing to update its economic model was a fatal move.
    The vast majority of good journalists, those who think with their heads and don't bow to their bosses, have left the industry for good. They were replaced by drones subservient to their employers. The funny thing is that these drones are better suited to cater the needs of large swathes of the ”new public”, which has the attention span of a fruit fly.
    I'm not saying we should go backwards and his isn't a rant; I found the presentation to be most entertaining. And wrong on oh-so-many other levels I won't get into. 🙂

  8. e fucking advertisment criminals are starting in on destroying youtube again kill these cunts kill them all adds fucking adds fraud adds rights to be protected from fraud adds sue them kill them destroy fraud adds kill there fucking piles of shit that make adds death to humany i have no respect for humans all need to die the sick wealthy piles of adds shit adds have all the rights adds wile the rest adds are subject adds kill the adds fucking adds cunts adds

  9. Not like none of you have ever said something when you meant somethings else. It's a simply mistake and he shouldn't be attacked for it. Chomsky line or not.

    I really think that the media is biased in a way to programme us. How do we deal with this? We discontinue watching and reading the traditional news outlets.

  10. As a reply to the question at 46:54, Alain should have mentioned contemporary television dramas like The Sopranos, Mad Men, House of Cards and Game of Thrones. At their best, these shows do an excellent job of combining popularism with the kind of high-brow seriousness that's often regarded as "unmarketable".

  11. it's being suggested here that there are individuals who run the news who decide how the news is presented, as if they're saying "we run the news, we want the story in ukraine to be portrayed to confuse and scare the population". Who are these people?

  12. There are so many key ideas in this talk I've made a ton of notes with a dozen key points. Top of the lis is to keep thinking.  I forgot to add, De Botton wrote the last of his books using Google Docs, as he said, I cannot thank Google enough. And one of those titles was in realtime docs with a colleague in Tasmania ..

  13. What we need is something like an RSS feed reader that presents ONLY ONE  topic per page and:
    – Links to original sources ( or reliable sources ) or give only objective facts.
    – Links to other takes on the news (biased) and sorted by popularity or by something like 'reddit karma'.
    – This way the effort is spent just gathering facts and the other effort can be offloaded to other people / organizations that want to present their view on the topic (it's a bit like how people remix original music).

  14. Around 27:40 he says we need bias, someone that tells us what to Think, but the absolute end he says that not thinking is the entire problem. So maybe we should ask how media that makes us Think looks like.

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