Thursday, October 6, 2016

In this brave new world of information what most people hear is blah blah blah

I remember how the world was back in the days before Google, before smart phones, before anyone even had a computer in their home. It was the world BC. Before cable. A world where there were three channels on TV that did the news three times a day. A world where we read newspapers in the morning to see what happened yesterday. Many people read magazines. That was it. Three networks, one newspaper, and magazines. And the magazines more often than not were read at the doctor's office, or at the dentists. You did have magazines at the barber shop, but those were usually Outdoor Life, Boys Life, or Popular Mechanics. Walter Cronkite told you what was going on and that was pretty much that.

Now, there is a veritable explosion of people talking and writing. The supply of opinions, speculations, facts, or maybe not quite facts seems limitless. What we have now is a cacophony, a veritable informational highway of babble. So many voices, so many pulpits. Yet, it seems to me no one really listens. Not really. Now I am wondering, did people actually listen back in the dark ages, back before Google and Youtube? It seems to me they did.

Back in the day it was more quiet. People weren't in such a rush. If you didn't catch the 6:00 or the 11:00 news you missed it. Listening was what people did. You listened to your parents, your teacher, your preacher. You listened when the President addressed the nation. You listened to Walter Cronkite. Because you trusted in authority. You listened to authority. That is no longer true. The past 30, 40, even 50 years has been an accelerating process of losing trust in authority and authority figures that has grown in tandem with the explosion of information technology. These things go hand in hand. Vietnam, Nixon, Watergate, the oil embargo, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, the great recession, the bailouts, Iraq, and now Iran, ISIS, and the explosion of world wide terror. Not only do we have more sources of information, but they often conflict each other wildly. We no longer trust our government or the media. We no longer have an authority to appeal to, we have a plethora of authorities to choose from. We choose those that reinforce what we want to believe.

This is why we no longer listen. Because we already know. We have already decided and that is it. When we hear anyone say anything we typically listen only far enough to decide do we agree or disagree. If we disagree we stop listening as we formulate a rebuttal. If we agree we stop listening as we congratulate ourselves on being so wise or pity those who are too foolish to get it. On those rare occasions we hear something we have not already decided upon most of the time we only listen long enough to decide we care. Only rarely do we stop, admit that we may not know, and then give what has been said serious thought.

You have only to look so far as the Vice Presidential "debate", and I use that term very loosely, to see this in application. Trust me, if you start talking before the other guy is finished you are not listening.

I am not saying we were wise to trust authority as much as we did when we really didn't have a choice. I think time has shown that it is wise to hold a healthy skepticism. I am not saying that choice is bad either. Information should never be a monopoly. I am saying to choose wisely, not based upon what makes you feel comfortable or superior. Seek truth over comfort. Above all, learn again how to listen. Debate ideally is not a contest to be won or lost. Debate should be as much listening as talking. Debate should strengthen understanding, should unify purpose, and it should result in greater insights. We do not have debates in politics. We have competing sales pitches and slander.

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