When we think of consuming, most of us think about things we purchase – electronics, groceries, clothing, etc. Many of us try to be conscious in our buying choices, often making selections based not only on the quality of the products but the social agenda of the supplier.
But do we employ the same awareness to the information or data we consume? I realize that we don’t normally think of ourselves as information consumers but each of us ingests a huge amount of information each day – conversations with co-workers, family and friends, what we hear on radio and TV, and what we read in print and on the Internet. Some of this information we might pay for and much of it comes without monetary costs. But all of it takes a bit of our attention, and we have a limited amount of this asset. Our attention is the scarcest resource we have. So you could say we “pay” for the data we ingest, if not with money then with our time and attention.
As we are learning how technology feeds us with the kind of information we seem to like, through those mysterious algorithms and other difficult-to-understand mechanics, we are also beginning to realize that we are becoming more and more polarized. Since each of us is being fed information that best suits our point-of-view (“POV”), silos of ideology are being erected and growing taller and taller depending on how many people share our POV. So the information we are consuming is contributing to the increased polarization in the world.
This data, this information we ingest, doesn’t come with a warning label as do many of our food items. It doesn’t warn us that “This information may reinforce your existing prejudices and biases.”
Friends forward things to me that they believe to be factual because it fits with their beliefs. It takes a fair degree of consciousness to remain objective and decipher if this friend’s “factual” email is really true. Frequently, I find myself fact-checking whenever I suspect the content might be biased. When we believe something to be true we tend to believe anything we see or hear that reinforces that belief. The payoff is feeling like we are right, which leads to arrogance and self-righteousness, not exactly the most attractive character traits. Never mind that we may not have the facts correct.
Imagine being as conscious and informed about where your information comes from as you are about the produce you buy. Whether you lean to the left or the right, or have any other ideological leanings or biases, you might want to be a bit more selective in what you take in as truth or fact.
Merriam Webster defines “due diligence” as “the care that a reasonable person takes to avoid harm to other persons or their property.” Perhaps we should practice due diligence before consuming information that comes our way, whether it comes from media, friends or family, thereby avoiding harm to ourselves or others by reinforcing our biases and contributing to the further polarizing of society.