Bloodshot eyes. Trembling hands. Paranoia and unexplained panic attacks. Sound familiar? If so, you or someone you know may suffer from an emerging but widespread malady -- cable news addiction.
Until recently, these "news junkies" have lived mainly in the shadows, furtively logging on to msnbc.com on their lunch break, or staring glassy-eyed at CNN in darkened rooms with the curtains drawn. However, the increasing number of afflicted can no longer be ignored. These tormented souls have become more vocal about their dependency, partly in a plea for help and partly as a way to educate others about this debilitating illness. Though research on the subject is scant, the honesty of several of these addicts has produced a considerable volume of information. Based on what these brave victims have admitted, researchers have compiled a list of warning signs that you may be addicted to cable TV news:
1. You find yourself getting too up close and personal with the anchors and reporters.
Taking an interest in television news personalities can be an important part of being a discriminating viewer. How do you know who to trust if you don't evaluate their news judgment with a critical eye? But if your interest transcends their reporting style or their objectivity, you may have crossed the line into fixation. If you know an anchor's zodiac sign, favorite color and their brand of toothpaste, you are no longer just an educated viewer. You are a stalker. Rule of thumb: if you notice when Larry King wears a new pair of suspenders, you may be losing touch with reality.
2. You only feel truly alive when you're watching cable news.
Does the "breaking news" graphic makes your heart flutter in a way it hasn't since your first crush? The thrill of 24-hour news coverage can be so intoxicating that you forget there's a world beyond your television screen. Every time you tune in, there are new developments: an unexpected witness comes forward, a memo is leaked, an incriminating video tape surfaces. How can the predictability of everyday life compete? However, many news junkies take this to the extreme, shirking their responsibilities and neglecting friends and loved ones. After all, grocery shopping just can't hold a candle to the Abrams Report. But if you find yourself skipping your daughter's piano recital because it interferes with your favorite news show, try to come back to earth. Repeat after me: The world does not revolve around Anderson Cooper.
3. Your fixation with the news permeates every area of your life.
Cable television news can inform and enlighten, giving you an in-depth look at events in a way a 30-minute newscast simply cannot. However, you should be able to turn off the television, go out into the world and live your life. If you find that your fascination with cable TV news colors how you look at the entire world, your judgment may be impaired. When in social situations, if you can't make small talk without thinking "What would Keith Olbermann say?" you are dangerously close to losing your sense of self. And if you can't date because no one can measure up to Bill Hemmer or Soledad O'Brien, you may be setting yourself up for a very lonely life indeed.
If these warning signs fit you, don't despair. Cable news addiction is not incurable. A former addict myself, I am now recovered and live a healthy, happy life. I can even watch the cable news networks with no fear of spiraling helplessly into the depths of addiction. This just in? I don't even turn up the volume. In fact, I can even change the channel. Wait --what happened? You're preempting regular programming for special all-day coverage? There's a news conference in half an hour. Take the phone off the hook, shut the blinds and tell my boss I won't be in today! I've never felt so alive!