Friday, June 15, 2007

Your Responsibility to Know... the world is not coming to an end.

I have always said that each and every one of us has a responsibility to be informed. We have to seek out information that matters, find disparate views and weigh options. Watching TV news and reading the paper DOES NOT fulfill that responsibility. In fact, if that is all you do to be informed then you have probably taken a step backward rather than forward. That's right, you are now dumber then when you started.

The media is biased.

I am not talking about a liberal bias or a right wing conspiracy. I am talking about a bias toward the sensational. A bias towards giving us the media view we want instead of the view we need. We want car chases, shootings, body counts and conflict. Or, at least we want to hear about it. We want the "dirty laundry" and the media gives it to us. Do we want to hear about the thousands of us that made it home safe at the end of the day? "Tonight at 11, 99.9999% of us make it home safe!" No we want "Tonight at 11, truck plunges off highway..." We want to hear about the truck that didn't make it home. Hear this bad news enough and we think the world is going to Hell-in-a-handbasket. We start making false appraisals based on bad information, information void of context or perspective, and information seen through the lens of our own cognitive bias.

The media knows we crave this emotional "crack cocaine" and gives us our fix whenever we want it with the advent of the 24 Hour News Channel and web-based news, aka the endless news cycle. Now we can see the world in our living room complete with an emotional sound track in the background and some flashy graphics to tell us how to feel. What's more, we can find out about a candidate for President in a 20 second sound bite, or learn about the situation in Palestine in a two minute expose. None of this is substantial enough to give the consumer the time, context and perspective to become truly informed. Instead the reader, listener or viewer is given his or her sensational and truncated fix. Information is just information until it is sensationalized and summarized, then it becomes "the News."

The only way to be truly informed and meet your obligation is to seek information. Rather than be just a consumer of what is given to you, like a pet, be an active seeker of information. Look for sources that challenge your bias or preconceived notions. Look for different and new sources of information. If you have a favorite columnist or news anchor it is probably because that person confirms your bias. By having your bias confirmed you are actually actively becoming dumber. If you branch out regularly to other sources and allow other's views to interact with your own you just might learn something. You just might become truly informed. You will be meeting your obligation to be informed. So read your paper and watch your evening news but also seek other sources of information.