We live, we are told, in the Information Age. At times, though, it can be more like the Misinformation Age. I’ll explain why, shortly.
When I was younger, we got our national/world news reports from the daily paper, or the radio, or the evening news on TV. The TV news was broadcast on one of three national networks. For 30 minutes a night.
That was it.
Can you imagine? There was no 24-hour news channel. Now, we’re absolutely inundated with them.
We just had folks like Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, John Chancellor, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and, on the public station, Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer, spending 30 minutes sharing the most newsworthy events of the day.
And we depended on them to inform us with the facts. Mr. Cronkite even attained the status of “The Most Trusted Man in America.”
Nowadays, we have access to news all day and all night, whenever we want it, from multiple outlets. Not just news, mind you, but in-depth analysis, panel discussions (which often become shouting matches), interviews, whatever else they can think of to fill 24 hours. Everything you ever wanted to know about a story, and so much more you never did.
Not to mention, all the news sites available on the Internet, pertaining to news in general or to specific subject matter and, of course, all these wonderful individuals who circulate all these falsehoods and rumors, passing them off as News. Chain emails are the absolute worst.
Now, I’m not saying information itself is a bad thing. Knowledge is power, after all. The problem, though, is when you have this many people telling the same stories, you can hear so many different versions. Different details are included, or ignored, according to the storyteller. And, while some news stations may aim for objectivity, others definitely imprint their ideology on what they report.
So, then, the question becomes, who do you believe?
Well, obviously, human nature leads us to believe who we want to. Most of us usually have our minds already made up on a particular subject, be it a person, issue, event, what have you, and we’re likely to apply that filter to the news we consume. Stories that may offer a different perspective than our own mostly get ignored, right? So, while we claim we want to be informed, chances are, we choose to believe only the information that reinforces our preconceptions.
Now, how useful is that?
I used to be, and mostly still am, insecure about expressing my opinion regarding people and events in the news when I’m with other people, because it always seems to me that the other people speak their opinions with so much conviction, supremely confident in their stance, so they must know what they’re talking about. I rarely feel such conviction, and for a long time, I thought it was because I was an indecisive, wishy-washy milquetoast.
The older I get, though, the more I think that rather, I’m more willing to look at both sides of a story, and recognize there are valid points to be made on either side. These days, I wonder if the people with the strong convictions attained them by looking at both sides before choosing one, (and good for them if they did) or did they simply latch onto one side, with no consideration for the other, because it matched their own philosophy, and that’s that?
So, here’s a challenge for you. If you’re used to getting your news from the same source every time, consider trying a different one, one that may not align as closely with what you believe. I know that’s difficult; I don’t like doing it, either. But perhaps, it can cause you to look at a person, issue etc. in a way you haven’t before, and maybe reevaluate where you stand. That’s scary, I know; it means you might have to admit you were wrong about something and, if you’re like me, you HATE that!
On the other hand, it could lead to more productive conversation if we’re willing to challenge our preconceived notions and open our minds just a bit.
And, thinking optimistically, here, more productive conversation may even lead to more productive actions, and I think we can all agree, it’s long past time for those.
As Mr. Cronkite used to say, “And that’s the way it is.”