Friday, August 20. 2010
I came across an interesting article about how too much information makes us avoid unpleasant and uncomfortable issues. An example the author gives is one of the recent Time magazine covers with 18 years old Afghan girl whose nose and ears have been cut off as ruled by a local Taliban judge. This Time's cover story has for example not reached high media coverage like the story of a flight attendant (steward) who got feed up with a rude passenger.
The idea behind the article is that with too much information around us we are more likely to filter out and avoid such news while our sensors will remain focused on light news we feel comfortable with. We are more likely to miss the whole picture of the world and focus on stories that are not a threat to the humanity.
There might be other reasons (besides information overflow) why our societies avoid such news:
- In the past (before Internet age) such news were less likely to come to us and maybe we still do not care much about places far from us. My grandma used to say that there are too many bad things going on in the world after watching news on the TV every day and that she will not watch news anymore. I always replied that this kind of stories were not shown on the TV a few years ago, and if she doesn't like them just avoid them and stick to her old habits.
- Media has become more and more driven by capitalism and politics, that even in the so called developed world where the right of speech is thought of as one of the main rights, it might not be so. We might be bombarded with so much unimportant stories to divert our focus from serious issues to more pleasant stories. Military has also become more skilled with media wars as they were in the past!
- There are also so many people that try to exploit every possible people's tragedy and natural disasters with fake news and fake money raising web sites, and fake people going from door to door that we maybe try to avoid scamming (or not care about these stories). I still receive emails about the same people that had an incurable cancer 10 years ago. And even if we donate goods to "right" organizations often these goods do not reach the people in need.
- Maybe we are just to fearful (and a bit selfish). Although I would not like to say this but we are likely to avoid serious issues even in our close vicinity. I was listening to a BBC radio 2 show a few months ago about how to help friends who were diagnosed with a lethal disease and so many people called in to tell first hand stories of how they avoided their friends in the time of need and were later very sorry (often too late).
- A also read a study about how people tend to rely on news from newspapers, TV channels and web sites that are in favor of their political party, vision of the life, world and such. We do this to be more happy as we are likely to be more happy to read a news story that we like than the news we dislike - which has nothing to do with information overflow.
Maybe there are other reasons as well. But on the other hand we do not fear horror movies, violence and blood in Hollywood mainstream production. Is is because we know these are not true stories? Maybe.
Overall I still think a lot of people do not avoid this kind of stories. To have a bigger picture of e.g. the war in Afghanistan we do have to get information from various sources (even the mentioned NPR article) with different insights and opinions (do not fear opinionated stories). We cannot be well informed if we do rely on one source of information only. This is why information overflow on the web is also good. And this is why reading comments on stories is good as well (Web 2.0 really changed the way information is delivered and disseminated). Who wants to get well informed has a chance to do so, while others will remain focused on whatever they think is important to them. We have options and this is what matters. Even if we miss a TIme's cover we can still know (or think to know) the whole picture of the war in Afghanistan.