When I was young, which seems like yesterday and a lifetime ago, when you wanted to know something, you either asked someone, read papers / magazines or went to the library to research your subject.
Libraries were the internet of the day and encyclopedias were the first stop on your search, that led to other reference books which we looked up in the catalogue index, which was a bunch of cards pointing to the book’s location. That was the original database and the modern version works on a very similar principle today.
Now, we have the internet, a global system interconnecting machines so they can relay data on the world wide web, straight to your browser. Research and sharing of information is instant with media channels delivering news instantly, sometimes events covered as they are happening by people involved at the scene, thanks to apps like Periscope and Facebook live.
Anyone can now put ideas out to a wide audience and the information appears to be endless. It’s a fantastic resource, bringing the world closer to knowledge for those that want it.
However, there is a responsibility, and it’s a heavy one. People tend to believe what’s written, especially if it conforms to their beliefs and opinions, otherwise known as confirmation bias. We have to research over multiple sites now to confirm facts, the sequence of events and try to get near the facts.
I had this conversation recently with an online friend, where I believe facts are indisputable and M believes that they are about perception. It was one of those conversations that are great, exploring ideas, opinions and chopping them around. For me, facts are indisputable and the perception comes in when dealing with the why.
The reality is Schrodinger’s Cat, a demonstration of perception and realities which occur concurrently, the cat being dead and alive at the same time. What that means in every day life is that we view facts through a lens of perception filters which are your beliefs, opinions and experience. These inform your view of the facts that are presented and acceptance of these can become the reality for the individual, usually led by some confirmation bias.
For those out there pushing an agenda, whether it be a mainstream media outlet or a blog (ironic, huh?) dressed up as ‘news’, public opinion can be manipulated and an outcome reached before the facts even have a chance to get their trousers on, to mess with a Churchill quote. The principle is exactly as it was in Churchill’s time, just with the message being delivered more quickly to more people.
Take today on social media. A friend posted a link from a site that stated there were religious wars in London with young men attacking each other while armed with bats. It was put down to muslims attacking innocent people in a Jewish area of London. Let’s think about that: groups of young men, with weapons attacking each other in an inner city area.
That sounds like gang wars to me and has been going on for some time. Facts of the matter are that two sets of youths are fighting in an area in London that has been traditionally Jewish. The rest is perspective, spin and poor reporting, which people swallow if it meets with their confirmation bias, leading them to spread the information without questioning or researching further.
The upshot is that we have a wealth of information available to us but we choose to accept a narrow vision presented by others with an agenda. The more I learn, the less I know and the less I am inclined to believe.
It’s hard, sometimes impossible, to get the full view of an event without actually being there as the mainstream media are also giving an editorial instead of reporting in most cases, whatever will sell copy than give the facts, unabridged.
All we can do is research objectively and make a reasoned judgement on what’s presented to us, without putting through the filter of a perspective. It’s asking a lot, but in the age of constant information, we have to have some process in which to evaluate the information presented.
Then we might be useful to ourselves and not to someone else.