cognitive dissonance

Mark Twain famously once said that if you don’t read newspapers, you are uninformed and if you read them, you are misinformed. He might well have been pondering an earlier observation by his fellow American, the old ravenmaster Edgar Allan Poe who filled in a few other sensory markers, which still hold true today:

“Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear.”

Old media, new media – has anything changed in the quality of its content? These were observations made before the era of mass media, and during its evolution starting from the printed word. And where are we today? Somewhere caught btw in a world built on mass media evolving into another huge social experiment, social media. Images aside, words must bend and break, be fragmented, bastardized and blended to fit into that new paradigm. But that’s the point – written language and without a trace of arrogance, my own one, English has shown an incredible flexibility and utility in its ability to fit.

But once we’ve solved the means and the conveyance of ideas to large numbers of people, given everyone a potential voice and set very few real restrictions thus far (from above in the form of regulation and below by haters (free speech invariably interests trolls and populists) the question I’m really wondering is ‘where do we go from here?’

Like others, I am bewildered by a smorgasbord of information these days, through my phone, through this computer, my tablet through any number of social media platforms I choose to subscribe to. Somehow or other they all vie for my eyeballs and an increasingly large portion of my day is sacrificed for this information – of course I have followed my inclinations and followed things that interest me while consciously screening out things that don’t (like sport and the cult of celebrity). In that sense I’m reinforcing my sense of self and my beliefs (and disbeliefs). But any way forward, there really is just too much information on offer for this old pre frontal cortex to take. I’m radiating a sense of unease and I’m doing it on social media (hey!)

And here’s the thing, at what point do we get when we believe those things we choose to see (ie your self reinforcing preferences) without questioning the probable fact according to Poe’s observation at least, that half will be a lie, a false flag, a pleasant fiction?

As for the complete disbelief of hearing, taking aside radio show hosts and DJs, the game of Chinese whispers and the promises of politicians, I generally do trust what I hear. When my neighbour says it’s a fine autumn day, I look up to a sunny sky and concur. When my youngest daughter tells me I’m a bad parent, I know she isn’t blowing smoke up my ass, even if she is a heavily biased critic.

In the rich content media world of the internet though, I can be bamboozled by manipulated images, confounded by recorded messages and misinformed by written words. Call me paranoid if you like. I really want to believe the truth is out there,if not in the content, then in our sense of connection, if nothing else. Call me a realist though when I see the truth getting increasingly obscured by too much information.

If you are willing to give up this much time to social media, it’s already overtaken religion, or should I say, it’s become another religion with all the trappings attached to it. My rational mind tells me that there is wisdom in crowds but in this new media overflow, you must sift a ton of dirt to get a gram of gold. It seems then that uncertain times is the new normal and to answer my own question, increasing cognitive dissonance is where we are going from here.


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