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News junkie

My hobby of constantly being up to date with the news transformed from being a guilty pleasure to a downright deranged obsession similar to someone being hooked on nicotine. I couldn’t stop, and it was impossible to have enough. After I exhausted the articles in one news outlet, I would quickly jump to the next one, finish those and continue on until I had finished reading every article available.

Like an ice-cold beer that refills itself and never gets warm, there was always new material to glug down. I voraciously read everything, from studies saying that eggs aren’t good for you (next year there will probably be an article telling you otherwise and the reverse a year after that), to Kim Jong-un executing his uncle with an antiaircraft gun. But I wasn’t always like this.

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“He’s an old man!” My college friend mockingly said about me to the girl he was trying to impress. The girl giggled as she watched me go through the motions of attempting to read a newspaper. It was 2006 and I was a 17-year-old literature major just trying to follow the advice given by my professor, who said that it would be a good idea to read the paper every day in order to become a better writer.At the height of my obsession with reading the news, I was sleeping at 2:30 a.m. because I couldn’t put down reading the articles on the CNN, BBC and Bloomberg phone apps. Thereafter, I would wake up with only five hours of sleep to see if there were any changes to the stories I was following. I would scroll for an hour on just the news before even opening my social media accounts. Originally, I told myself I had to read the news because my professors in law school told me that current events were included in the bar exams. Five years have passed, I have become a lawyer, and being up to date with the news remains as important to me as having one head and two arms.

As a jack of all trades but a master of none, I often find myself in situations in which I need to make conversation with people whom I’m meeting either for the first time or have known all my life, but have run out of the usual things to talk about. While some may be comfortable with silence, I consider it a missed opportunity to learn and to connect emotionally with others.

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Do you know that Elon Musk sells flame throwers (sold out, by the way) in addition to electric cars? Have you heard of the Google employee who decided to buy and live inside a truck container to save on rent while parked outside Google? These are some of the jumpstart questions I use to break the ice. I cannot remember a time when I failed to elicit genuine curiosity, and once given the implied invitation, I would excitedly mouth the highlights of an article in the shortest time possible. The point of retelling the news is not to become the dinner table’s private news anchor, but to be a catalyst for fun discourse.

Reading substantive material other than your friend’s drunken adventures in Poblacion last weekend can only earn you so many sophistication points. Choosing which news topic to talk about is, however, just as important as internalizing the vast reservoir of online news. You need to know who your audience is and what they would find interesting. Talking about the rape of a poor student on a bus in India (which led to a national movement against sexual harassment) just before asking a girl out probably won’t get you that date. And highly politicized topics are out of the question. Talking about Zhang Yong’s story from humble beginnings to a hotpot franchise billionaire might, however, be your entry to getting a hot night, depending on how spicy you can tell the story.

Many people feel unprepared in life. I know this because I am one of them. But there is no better way to prepare for uncertainty than by making sure you know a little bit of everything. And that is what the news is—a never ending up-to-date printout of what makes our world a better place and what threatens it. Being prepared is synonymous to knowing we will eventually have flying Uber taxis and that two burger patties a week contribute to greenhouse gas. So, while I may be a news junkie, I would rather that my aging fingers instinctively scrolled through an article talking about the success of Blue Bottle, an artisanal coffee shop chain worth billions, than a newsfeed showing me pictures of my friend’s cappuccino.

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Rafael Lorenzo G. Conejos ([email protected]), a lawyer, is manager of Alcoves Philippines and former professor of literature at DLSU Manila.

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