Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Media consumption diet


Today a friend offered this:

I'm doing my best to boycott / not listen to any Chump speeches / press conferences for as long as I can. It's a self-preservation thing (gotta watch the blood pressure and anxiety levels) but also a strategic thing. He lies half the time (or more), retracts the other half, and almost all of it is nonsense, not to mention white supremacist, sexist, anti-immigrant, anti-poor people and anti-planet. ... We have to get smart, people, and play the long game. The stakes are too high to do anything else.

To this I respond a loud AMEN. Part of keeping our sanity is controlling how much bullshit we have to sort through.

An article from Politico describes the perils of the Trumpian information environment. The orange con-man is working hard to get into our brains.

What happens when a lie hits your brain? The now-standard model was first proposed by Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert more than 20 years ago. Gilbert argues that people see the world in two steps. First, even just briefly, we hold the lie as true: We must accept something in order to understand it. For instance, if someone were to tell us—hypothetically, of course—that there had been serious voter fraud in Virginia during the presidential election, we must for a fraction of a second accept that fraud did, in fact, take place. Only then do we take the second step, either completing the mental certification process (yes, fraud!) or rejecting it (what? no way).

Unfortunately, while the first step is a natural part of thinking—it happens automatically and effortlessly—the second step can be easily disrupted. It takes work: We must actively choose to accept or reject each statement we hear. In certain circumstances, that verification simply fails to take place. As Gilbert writes, human minds, “when faced with shortages of time, energy, or conclusive evidence, may fail to unaccept the ideas that they involuntarily accept during comprehension.”

Our brains are particularly ill-equipped to deal with lies when they come not singly but in a constant stream, and Trump, we know, lies constantly ...But Trump goes a step further. If he has a particular untruth he wants to propagate—not just an undifferentiated barrage—he simply states it, over and over. As it turns out, sheer repetition of the same lie can eventually mark it as true in our heads.

Ah, yes, today he's selling voter fraud snake oil.

We do have a defense mechanism: we can make thoughtful choices about what information we consume and how we consume it.

I have a confession to make. As yesterday's post showed, I'm a news consumer formed by the Vietnam-era. By that I mean that I have almost never in a long life trusted government statements, especially about our foreign military adventures, but even about most anything. I've worked a long life in politics of various kinds. I've seen a fair number of politicians in action. By and large, I don't consume anything they say either, at least not by way of TV or video. I might listen to some audio or scan the text of a pronouncement, but infrequently. In general, I try to wait a little until the dust has settled before consuming complicated stories. For one ancient example, although I was surrounded by headlines and shouting TVs, I intentionally didn't attempt to understand the ins and outs of Watergate/the Nixon impeachment until after that crook resigned; I waited til All the President's Men came out. Far more recently, I didn't really try to understand the ins and outs of Obamacare until Dems finally managed to write the law.

Yet I've never felt seriously under-informed. As I've written here before, I scan the New York Times for a general picture of what the talkers of the world are talking about. On most topics, the headlines are plenty. Most of my input comes from other sources; these days I'm liking Talking Points Memo, Slate, and Vox. On this blog, I'll usually find a mainstream source for anything contemporary I want to discuss, but my reflections have often been spurred by something I encountered elsewhere, including from the sites on the blog list at the right.

I ignore Twitter. Half a decade ago I assembled a list of interesting reporters to follow. It worked for awhile, pointing me to journalism I might want to read. But then most Twitter users, including the journalists, turned the platform into a playpen for clever self-display, so I've stopped caring.

I do consume podcasts, particularly those from the same sources I also read online. That's because podcasts work well with my running habit.

And I still read widely in that obsolete source: books! Historical experience both alarms and reassures. It can help us survive Trump; after all, we're writing our own saga of defending democracy and decency in a mature capitalist, multi-ethnic, over-burdened society and planet. Let's make it a good story!
***
UPDATE on how I read news: this morning, the Washington Post has a headline that reads "Trump signs executive orders clearing way for oil pipelines to move forward." That's a story there is no point in reading. We knew he'd do that. Soon enough, in other venues, I'll be able to read how Native nations, water protectors, and friends are responding. That's worth reading.

Graphic stolen from Slate.

1 comment:

Hattie said...

That seems like a good media diet. I do a lot of skimming, too. I don't listen to podcasts, and I do use Twitter, following people like Sarah Kendzior and Rebecca Traister, as well as Joyce Carol Oates, the New York Review of Books, and for that eclectic note, Dina Martina! On Facebook I follow my Senators, Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz, (and you, of course!) who are straight shooters.
I hardly ever look at mainstream media. I did watch some MSNBC when on vacation. The ads were what I noticed most. They are very strange and give such a warped idea of American life.

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