How do you get your information regarding what goes on in the world? How do you really figure out what you think about contemporary topics? I’ve been doing some self-examination when it comes to these types of questions, and I’ve been startled at what I’ve found.
I had to instantly separate the question “how do you figure out what you think about contemporary topics?” from “how do you stay current with the news?” There is a subtle difference in the question that hints at a problem with which we are just now coming to grips. I’m referring to the tendency we have today of falling into the trap of “news-byte” syndrome. Most college students or people my age are too cool to admit they watch television (unless it’s “occasionally Lost or the Office”) and so would immediately recognize the troubling trend on network and local news of watering down news items into 30-second clips. But this trend has been going on for a while, and people my age haven’t really watched network news for years anyway.
The new “news-byte syndrome” comes from the internet. From facebook, twitter, and the social networking worlds to the google news, yahoo news, etc., we are falling into the same trap as those who watch news on TV. We are staying current, yes, but do we actually know anything about what’s really going on? It goes like this: I check twitter, see an earthquake has happened somewhere, and click over to google news to figure out more. I quickly scan the bare-bones article and move on. I’ve now made myself informed, or so I think.
The problem is, I’m substituting a wide, sweeping, and generally shallow approach to news information for a more sophisticated, intelligent, and deeper understanding of what is going on around me. The problem isn’t necessary the news media. There are plethora of web sites and tv shows that give you a relatively “in-depth” understanding of an issue. I just don’t stay plugged in long enough to pay attention to them.
Our opinions (and i’m speaking here of people my age) and stances are being formed by our “fill-in-the-blank” approach to information. In this model, we pay attention long enough to think we have all we need, then we “fill-in-the-blank”, make the mental jump, and leave the topic altogether. After all, you have to find some way of organizing and categorizing the vast amount of information we are bombarded with on a daily basis.
But it gets really tiring to try to keep this model up. And you start to realize how shallow your understanding of issues is when you talk to people who are actually informed on issues. At least that’s been my finding. So I’ve decided to try and alter the way I’m taking in information and processing it. I’m reading magazines like BusinessWeek and Time in order to get deeper into issues I previously knew very little about. I’m watching video clips of the PBS News Hour so I can better understand what’s happening around the globe. These are just some small steps. And they aren’t really taking that much more time out of my schedule. I’m just using my time better.
I think what it comes down to is this: I can see myself slipping into this kind of “informed haze” where I know the basic facts about what’s going on, but have never engaged with the issues themselves in a deep manner. And then I’m walking into my local polling booth without any idea whatsoever about what I’m getting ready to do. And that’s just a lazy way out. That’s no way to show gratitude to the countless people who have sacrificed for my generation to have the opportunity to vote. That’s simply no way to be a good citizen.