Two men were sitting in a bar in Moab recently.
First man: “Can you believe the southern Utah leaders who go apoplectic whenever the possibility for a new national monument gets mentioned, are now declaring counties an economic disaster due to the tourism dollars lost when the government closed the national parks. Don’t they remember that most national parks began as national monuments?
Second man: “What? You still expect our political leaders to make sense?”
Personally, I’m much happier and less frustrated now that “making sense” is no longer a factor as I listen to or read about government. I do occasionally wonder why, however.
Recently I found an article on Fast Company website entitled, “8 Subconscious Mistakes Our Brains Make Everyday and How to Avoid Them,” by Belle Beth Cooper.
I’m not sure about all 8 because I got stuck on the first one: We surround ourselves with information to match our beliefs.
There’s a cartoon with the article, in which a kid asked his mom whether liberals or conservatives are more open-minded.
She says, “Most people are open minded about ideas they already agree with.” To which he replies, “What the heck good is that?”
I’m 61 years old. For most of my life growing up in Salt Lake City, we had three news channels to watch on television (four if you counted PBS) two newspapers, and a handful of magazines: Look and Life (for awhile), Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, and a few others. My memory suggests that sure, each news outlet had its own personality, but made a point of presenting the different sides of a specific argument, leaving the reader/viewer to form his/her own opinion.
Now, not only do we have 24/7 access to news and information, but usually we pick from the thousands of sources only those which come closest to our personal beliefs. We can spend our lives immersed only in what we believe.
The article calls this confirmation bias, which is related to the frequency illusion.
I noticed I experienced frequency illusion recently after I bought my first Apple computer. Suddenly because I saw Apple products everywhere, everyone must be making the change from PC to Mac.
“It’s a passive experience, where our brains seek out information that’s related to us, but we believe there’s been an actual increase in the frequency of those occurrences.”
This is unlike confirmation bias, during which we actively search for information that justifies our beliefs.
Today, success for news sources seems to depend on the continual offering of one flavor if you will, of information to not only feed, but solidify the opinions of their base audience. The key here is that this requires that as consumers of information, we form an opinion or belief early and don’t waiver.
If this is true, what better way to solidify the opinions of customers than to stretch the truth—by offering less than honest content. Lately, this seems to come in two forms. The first is the blatant presentation and creation of inaccurate information like that witnessed recently when Sean Hannity on Fox news interviewed people with false ‘horror stories’ about being hurt by the Affordable Care Act. MSNBC is often blamed for the other form—presenting opinion by Rachel Maddow, and Chris Matthews and others as fact, as news.
I love reading/hearing anything that agrees with me. Am I ‘moved’ by this? Not really. Do I grow? No, I only become more deeply entrenched? Moving out of entrenchments, may be the only reasonable way of responding to a world changing as fast as this one is.
Perhaps looking only for information matching our beliefs leads to talking only to people who agree with us. When we talk long enough to people exactly like us the language changes to a point where only those who believe in the same things can understand it. And it doesn’t make sense to anyone else.
“The key here is that this requires that as consumers of information, we form an opinion or belief early and don’t waiver.”