In the early days of the post-tsunami Japanese nuclear plant accidents, the spate of sensationalised fear-mongering “news” was staggering to behold. Big scary words were used. Inflated comparisons were drawn with Chernobyl. Not to mention the cherry-picking of scientific facts, measures and figures for wow factor rather than informative value. (The disaster has escalated since of course to a more serious level unfortunately.)
There seems to be a disturbing move involving multiple vectors towards this shallow sensationalism masquerading as news, old wives tales or made up myths masquerading as medicine, and conspiracy theories masquerading as “the real truth.”
The way we create and consume media and knowledge has become increasingly like the way we create and consume junk food.
(1) The audience suffers from attention and time deficit: The masses trained to consume short, low-context, low-thought particles of information like twitter feeds, Facebook statuses and so on. The audience in increasingly addicted to feedback and short stimuli – we have become feedback junkies (nod to Natalie Shell for this phrase.)
Even in knowledge and facts transmission, we want the buzz factor or we are bored. We are adding salt, sugar and MSG to absolutely every story. Otherwise the audience gets bored.
Our lives are getting faster and saturated with information. Even with the best intentions we still fall for the easy, lightweight, exciting, MSG-filled snippets. Just like choosing fast food over real food, we choose the highly flavoured snippets over well-crafted material that does take longer to make and consume.
(2) The producers are hampered by systemic issues (and laziness): When your primary measure of success is quantity of eyeballs and membership, and tight budgets force everyone to deliver against simplistic KPIs, it is easy to be tempted into doing shallow, sensationalistic, MSG-saturated snippets. And to keep them coming. Because that is what the audience wants. Easy sell. Easy KPI checks. And no idealistic battles to fight.
(3) Irrational fear and superstitions seem to be on the rise: As we get more comfortable and safe in our modern world, we start to take for granted what hard-earned knowledge and science can give us. The knowledgebase and skills needed to sustain our lives have become invisible to the average citizen. In the absence of immediate and feel-it-in-your-bones threats (sabre-tooth tiger!), we seem to be getting more and more fearful – even of the very tools, skills and processes that helped us get to where we are now. This almost sounds like an auto-immune disorder!
There seems to be an increasing erosion of rational thought. Vaccinations are bad. Tap water (in industrialised nations) is unsafe. Big pharma is creating diseases for profit. Everything “chemical” is bad… the list goes on. There are also the many moves by religious fundamentalists in countries like American and Australia to promote wilful ignorance instead of rational thinking. Over time, these must contribute to some massive downsizing of the population’s ability to question, think and create!
We are all part of this circle of mediocrity. The question is, will enough of us look up fro our Twitter feeds to realise and do something about this?
Beliefs, myths, and even conspiracy theories offers their own pay-offs and benefits without a doubt. But let’s face it: When I am sick, I want tested medication that will kill the bugs and not me. When I break a tooth or a bone, I want tested treatment procedures delivered in a sterile environment. When I want to fly around the planet at unnatural speeds, I want proper engineering and maths to work for me.
To bring it back to a business practice context: To find out if I have a quality, productivity, efficiency or HR problem, I want to use knowledge, skills and expertise based on rational, logical methodology. I really don’t think, potential psychological comfort aside, sacrificing a goat, or putting crystals on my computer, will fix my cashflow problem.