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Commentary

News addiction

6 May 2013 by Jim Fickett.

The radio show 99% Invisible points to a talk by Natasha Schüll on slot machines, in which she describes how the gaming industry engineers the whole slots experience in a way that ends up feeding gambling addiction. One of the more revealing statements by Schüll, an anthropologist, is that addicts view hitting the jackpot as an annoying distraction.

Very few people obtain consistent positive investing results. There are many reasons for this, but I think the most important one is that, for most people, it is much more fun to be addicted to the news than to slog through SEC filings rearranging numbers. There is some parallel to gaming, because for most people investing is a form of gambling. But the motivation is probably somewhat different. Whereas a slots addict is trying to maintain a certain trance-like high (according to Schüll), a news addict wants to feel smarter than the crowd.

As with those slots gamblers who don't want the interruption of a big win, most news junkies would rather feel sure that everyone else is stupid than actually make a winning investment. For those who are willing and able to invest well, a major obstacle to their endeavor is that the news is designed for junkies rather than investors.