Two summers ago I was faced with a difficult decision: what to name my column. After surveying an array of possibilities, I settled on “The Brazen Word,” a label that perhaps suited me nicely at the time. Today, for numerous reasons, many of which are best kept for a different column altogether, it is nearly impossible for your average American citizen to maintain educated opinions-not to mention “brazen words”-in regards to world and national politics.
The reason? The dissemination of uninformed opinion in the ironically labeled “Information Age.”
Veteran reporter John Lawton said it best: “The irony of the Information Age is that it has given new respectability to uninformed opinion.”
In the era of bloggers, Wikipedia, MySpace, and YouTube, information is no longer mass produced only by the elite-journalists, authors, political analysts-but by “You,” as Time Magazine informed us in the Dec. 2006 version of their annual “Person of the Year” edition. Now the Maureen Dowds and George Wills of the world are forced to play nice, and in the same space, as a pimple-faced eighth-grader with teen angst.
But social networking seems to be less about the noble vision of a free-flowing informational realm in which under-represented opinions are given a voice and more about the legitimization of hand-me-down “knowledge.”
I find it extraordinarily difficult to speak a learned word on the war in Iraq or global warming. How does one choose a position on a foreign subject when there are so many opinions, buzz words, and party lines that claim to “inform” us of the “real” world?
Are we not just the blind led by the blind? Does anyone know what’s really going on?
A 2006 ABC poll revealed that fewer than 40 percent of Americans are very sure that global warming is occurring, a notable diversion from conventional wisdom and an indication that many Americans seem aware of conflicted scientific analyses on the subject.
A recent CNN poll revealed that 63 percent of Americans oppose President Bush’s plan to send more than 20,000 U.S. troops into Iraq. That result surely suggests American unrest with the war efforts rather than a genuine critique of a troop increase. I highly doubt that the poll respondents have studied their war strategy and understand the implications of a moderate troop increase. Negative sentiment towards the war seems to be driving a resounding answer from a people dependent on second-hand knowledge.
I have this awful sense that conditions in Iraq are growing increasingly unstable and that global warming is as much the result of a natural earth cycle as it is a result of man-made pollution. But who can possibly claim to know what’s “really” going on when politicians, journalists, scientists, and the like are feeding us so many contradictory messages? And while my intuitions, my feelings or sentiments remain, I can’t help but admit that my innate sense of things is inevitably driven by what’s been spoon fed to me. My intuitions are undoubtedly rooted in my choosing to believe one report over another.In an age where information is so readily available, I’m baffled that so little can be decided beyond sentiment and intuition.It seems that “knowledge” today is just another word for choice. With the ever-growing disconnect between thinkers at home and events abroad and the continuing illusion that this boom of information adds to a collective human knowledge of global affairs, choosing is minimized into far too simple a task by so many.
Whether it be in regards to politics, sports, video games or computers, I find it extraordinary how knowledgeable teenagers and young adults are today despite the allure of the television and the Internet. But I am extremely skeptical of the source of this information, the judiciousness of the individuals processing it, and the inevitable dissemination of unreliable information produced in the ironically labeled “Information Age”.