Truth In The Age of Instant Messaging And The Twenty Four Hour News Cycle

I guess the enormous spaces that separate my beloved Alaska from the rest of the US might account for some of the cultural differences I’ve noted regarding people and lifestyles in ‘The Great Land’ versus those in the lower 48. It’s also obvious that because living in this magnificent state requires more of a commitment with respect to some facets of living like being aware of the natural world around one’s self and a willingness to be more self-sufficient the locals are bound to be a bit ‘different’ regarding those in the lower 48. Yet we remain Americans and we share a passion for our personal freedoms and a lot of proven technologies. One of said ‘proven technologies’ is the explosion of broadband communications and its associated cellular communications. Like so many such technologies it is indeed a dual edged sword; more and more rural people can now be in touch with family and friends and can call for assistance when required. As such they are ‘connected’ and this is generally a good thing. However, there are some definite negatives and as we’ve seen in recent incidents in the lower 48 there is a whole new mindset and understanding that must come about regarding instant messaging and nearly instantaneous broadband connectivity. Without such recognition and understanding this tool can become extremely dangerous.

No one would argue that more timely communication is a bad thing; having quicker access to information is generally important and being able to contact authorities when in need of assistance can be a life saver. But when digesting almost ‘real-time’ information regarding some situation we, as a culture, need to understand some basic concepts about such information. First and foremost we must come to realize that it is simply that: information. As such there is no guarantee as to its validity; in fact because of its very nature – being the initial output regarding some situation – we should treat it with a high degree of skepticism. Secondly we must remember that every story has at least two sides and more often than not there are even more perspectives; therefore, to react to just one side – and the first side which as mentioned earlier is most likely incomplete if not downright incorrect – is to react and form opinions and judgments without all the information. It is human nature to form some of our most lasting opinions based upon first impressions; so many times we’ve learned to our regret our first impressions were just plain wrong. This should serve as a huge warning bell to anyone building firm judgments based upon a single, virtually real time tweet or ‘breaking news story’ on some website. Thirdly we must recognize that so many situations and incidents are complex and cannot be dissected and fully understood in a matter of a few minutes. We’ve become a nation of information junkies hungering after the next 20 second explanation fix; the death of the print news media illustrates we really do not want to take the time to get any in-depth analysis or understanding of events. And lastly it is critical to recognize there are many groups out there with their own ideas, beliefs and agendas and most will gladly take some news story and use it to support their ideology or agenda regardless of how much the truth needs to be twisted or spun. Sadly this is the classic ‘the ends justifies the means’ argument which has been at the core of some of the most heinous and vile choices made during humanity’s reign.

Yes, it does take time to dissect many situations and often competing views or perspectives may require days if not longer to come to light. Then it may require weeks or even months for in-depth analysis to be made and facts to be checked and rechecked; that’s just how it is nowadays. There is often just no way to get an accurate and thoughtful analysis of something without the investment of time and effort. The fact that we seem to eschew such common sense says to me we really have become a culture that needs ‘satisfaction’ within minutes or at most hours; if we don’t get it by then we seem okay with either running with the incomplete half-truths we have or just dropping it all together and moving on to the next sensationalized issue or situation. Either response is far short of what is required to make sound judgments based upon facts.

Indeed, as we’ve seen with some of the most recent incidents involving white police interacting with’ people of color’ many of those demonstrating against the police do not want to hear the facts lest they become confused. Now that’s certainly a most sound and intelligent method to make a decision or form a judgment upon..!? In so many of these situations people allow their own emotions, agendas and perceptions to over-ride any need for factual information; this is not only unwise but downright dangerous. What has happened that we’ve become okay with making snap judgments based on incomplete information because we happen to agree with the initial analyses and perspectives? I see this as a multi-causal breakdown in a number of areas of our culture:

1. We’ve become a culture that doesn’t believe in personal responsibility; we hold few accountable for their actions. With this kind of perspective there is no value regarding personal integrity so say or do whatever you want; in the end it’s not your ‘fault’ and there will be no accounting.
2. We’ve seen the slow erosion of schools teaching critical thinking; now it’s more about being ‘sensitive’ and having a ‘world view’ than about being able to look at a set of observations or a situation and start breaking it down analytically.
3. We’ve become a society that cannot maintain a focus on any situation or issue for more than a few days at best. We become bored with things that ‘drag on and on’ and we look for the next exciting or new thing.
4. We’ve seen the traditional family breaking apart under so many strains and direct attacks I cannot even begin to name them. With this disintegration we are seeing the fruits of raising children with no moral compass and no appreciation of ethics or empathy when dealing with other human beings or life forms. Such individuals are loath to invest time in analytical thinking and are prone to being driven by emotion even in the face of the truth.

There are many more probable influences but the above list shows what I believe are some of the really influential shifts that have generated some very negative outcomes.

Without question we as a culture need to become aware of the impact almost instantaneous communication is having upon our society be it in this country or the world. I see no ‘value’ regarding the technology; tweeting and constantly being ‘in touch’ on phones or computers are neither good nor bad, they just are. How ‘We the People’ use these technologies is where we are seeing the positive and negative attributes. There exists a certain degree of responsibility that goes with utilizing these technologies although I’d wager very few people even recognize this let alone understand why this should be the case.

In my mind this still goes back to the concept of personal responsibility; if more people accepted the importance of being responsible whether because they had been brought up understanding and valuing this virtue or they were afraid of being held accountable for not being socially responsible then I suspect we’d see fewer people willing to say or do almost anything so long as it agreed with their beliefs or agendas. Oh Yes, there would also be a lot fewer folks ‘confused by the facts’ as well…

3 thoughts on “Truth In The Age of Instant Messaging And The Twenty Four Hour News Cycle

  1. I like your third point that states, ‘We’ve become a society that cannot maintain a focus on any situation or issue for more than a few days at best”. As evidenced by the fact that the Ukraine and ebola are no longer on every newscast. Have we stopped worrying about Russia attacking or people dying from ebola? But ask someone about how some pro sports team did this year and they can quote facts about every game…. Time to crawl back into my cabin and bury my head

  2. I just saw one of those videos documenting how clueless current college student are regarding history and the world; they couldn’t answer who won the Civil War, who the US fought against in WW II, who was the Vice President and similar but they nailed questions like; “What show was Snookie on?” and “Who is Brad Pit married to?”. A real grasp of the important information and these were college students on the campus of the University of Texas..!

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