Today is a day of limitless technology at the tip of our fingers. We are no longer limited by our physical restrictions; our phones can hold as much information as happens to be in the world. Yet, our limited minds are required to sift through the ever-expanding overabundant source of data and separate the factual from the farcical. It just gets plain exhausting, not to mention how taxing it is on the time we have available, to try to stay informed using multiple sources.
Keeping up to date on all fronts is maddening. The variety of news has expanded to online publications, Facebook, youtube, podcasts, local televised or print news, and national teleconferences or addresses. The variety of news sources can definitely be beneficial by providing multiple perspectives and accounting for all information available. However, it is not beneficial if we are being presented with multiple versions of a conflicting narrative. The news doesn’t change from source to source if what’s being stated is objective.
How Do We Slow it Down?
In order to try and obtain a foothold understanding of the world we live in, there are many strategies employed by us intended to make sorting easier. Many of us choose to rely on a television or online personality with which we can relate. We like to listen to those we believe to have a similar world view to ourselves. We may decide that some websites or news networks are factual and choose to rely on those sources. We will decide that some sources are not to be trusted. There has to be something we can do to limit the inundation of information, and simply, we just consider less information.
So Why is This a Problem?
While using strategies that cut down on the time required to know what’s going on is great, there are some serious problems that may arise. The most serious of which is the creation of an identity that is synonymous with political ideology. As we watch people who have the same viewpoints as ourselves, as we confirm our own biases. By hearing information that matches what we already think, we strengthen that identity. While it is common for people to have politically based identities, it is not beneficial to yourself, the people you interact with, nor society in general. This is because having an unswayed steadfast “identity” is extremely limiting. Eventually, information that doesn’t align with your views will become difficult to believe, maybe even written off as false before even considering checking the validity.
Having a conversation or reading a topic about a controversial subject can become difficult for the person that feels that ideas that deviate from their own are negative. This can make conversations feel like arguments, and disagreements feel like fights. It can make a simple truth feel like an attack on your way of thinking, even if it shouldn’t change anything. This concept of political identity can be seen all over our political discourse today. From politicians (only people that should have a political identity) preaching vilification of the opposition party and anchors/reporters asking one-sided questions without the pursuit of truth, today’s political environment is perhaps the most misleading it ever has been for the public. The capitalistic news is set up to captivate audiences so we don’t turn off our TVs during the advertisements or to make sure that we notice the side banner ads or dropdown videos on their websites. As consumers, we need to know how to navigate our own information stream. The following are great resources and methods to help with your unending journey to political enlightenment.
- Common Sense
- The most important step to being a well-informed citizen starts with trying to think for yourself. It is very difficult to hear something stated as fact and notice the inconsistencies. Yet, when things are surprising or fit the expected without any deviance it’s important to consider the likelihood of the statement and perhaps research the topic further on other resources.
- Suspicious Ear
- Oftentimes, it is beneficial to have a suspicious nature when consuming information. Unfortunately, most events have a group of people that gain and a group of people that lose. When hearing or reading about an event taking place, often we forget about both sides and focus on one (maybe we don’t even notice there’s an opposite side). Understanding and implementing this idea will give you a worldview and understanding of how society functions.
- True Professionals
- It’s become common for “professionals” to weigh in on many subjects. These span from business to medicine and science topics. As with anything the quality of “professionals” varies wildly. People at the top of their profession are generally terrific sources, but only if they truly are at the top of their field. This can be easily determined by researching their achievements. Professionals at lower levels are more likely incentivized to mislead for personal gain and may not even be truly knowledgeable about the topics at hand.
- Primary Sources
- When consuming information it is important to keep in mind the primary source. A primary source is the original source of information i.e. research findings, an artifact, a physical document, a recording or any information source taken directly from the event/time in question. A secondary source is the reporting of the information by an outside party i.e. news anchor. It is possible nowadays that the information reported isn’t really what the primary source indicates or is a dramaticised claim not founded on the true data. Scientific or government organizations collect and freely publish great amounts of data that is used in news reports. Data is available for the public in most scenarios, and is a far better resource from which to base an opinion.
- Fact-Checking Resources
- There are many ways to verify statements online. The most reliable method is finding the primary source yourself and forming your own opinion. Scientific, educational, or governmental organisations produce most of the data reported on in the United State’s and it is generally freely published on their websites. But that is time consuming. There are some organizations dedicated to verifying claims like Factcheck.org operated by the University of Pennsylvania that do a very good job and include source material. It is very important to be aware of the organization responsible for the content and notice if primary sources are included for verification by the public.
- New Era News
- In today’s media environment, there are some exciting developments. The lack of transparency has spawned new sources that promise less bias and far less bulky content. Newtrals.com for example reports very short summaries of newsworthy events with links to the source material in the article. The length limits the amount of time required to learn about the event while minimising bias. The links allow you to make your own opinions and see for yourself what is going on.