Guest Post by Brady Baildon: Dealing with the Tsunami of Information

In light of recent major news events, it is evident that we are on the cusp of a paradigm shift in how news is both reported and received. In her recent New York Times article, Maureen Dowd describes how we seem to be moving away from the traditional methods of reporting and viewing information (via the evening news and newspapers) and more towards new, electronic means of sending and receiving information (via Twitter, Facebook, texting, etc.). Dowd interviews James Gleick, an author who has been at the forefront of the technological boom, and he describes the distinction between actual news reporting and the instantaneous, furious, and frantic quantities of information that fly through cyber space through mediums like twitter and text messages. According to Dowd and Gleick, actual news reporting requires time to sort through, digest, and interpret sources and information, while Twitter and Internet news is “messy, pointillist, noisy, and often wrong.”

In our age, we seem to favor speed and instant access to information over thoughtfulness and reliability. Maureen Dowd makes an excellent point: if you think back to the Boston Marathon bombing hysteria, did you wait to watch the evening news or wait to read about the events in the newspaper the next day to get your information on the events that transpired? Or were you among the masses that turned to Twitter and online breaking news updates to satisfy your cravings for instant information? I know that, as events unfolded, I continuously refreshed my Twitter timeline and scanned the CNN breaking news ticker in search of any new updates or details.

Along with this immediate access to information, we are also exposed to false reports, fake stories, and inaccuracies. Sometimes, as news and information pours in, we have a hard time keeping everything straight and may blindly believe false stories or fake information without taking the time to actually think about what we are reading, watching, or listening to (i.e. fake Boston Marathon bomber Twitter accounts, fake Boston Marathon charity organizations asking for donations, etc.). What we need to keep in mind, before getting caught up in a whirlwind of tweets, texts, and breaking news updates, is that we must view and digest this information through a critical lens. Although it may be overwhelming, we cannot throw critical thinking out the window when all of this information is flying at us and quickly piling up at our feet. If we want to rely on tweets, texts, and status updates to keep us informed we must ask ourselves some basic questions that are fundamental to critical thinking and evaluating sources. We must ask: where is this information coming from? How was this information acquired? Is this information reliable? Are there any other sources or additional information that supports or confirms this information?

We cannot blindly accept every firsthand account or every piece of information that shows up on our phone and laptop screens; we must check other sources for corroborating information, ask questions, and critically evaluate the information we are presented. If traditional methods of reporting news are going by the wayside, then the responsibility falls on us to act as a journalist or an evening news correspondent and sift through information to make sense of it in a careful, critical, and thoughtful manner.

Quotes I liked from the article:

“‘There’s no perfect trust in cyberspace,” Jim said. “There are not only millions of voices, but millions of masks. You don’t know who’s who.’”

“I was taken with a piece he wrote this week for New York magazine about how the Boston Marathon bombings exposed a new phase in our experience of what David Foster Wallace called Total Noise: “the tsunami of available fact, context, and perspective.’”

“Everybody’s talking at once in a hypnotic, hyper din: the cocktail party from hell.”

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