I am an ambivalent reader/viewer of the news. Most days I will be busy in some work-related activity and realise mid-afternoon that I haven’t ‘checked in’ on the latest news. It isn’t for lack of material – I subscribe to the FT, the Economist, the Week and of course have boundless material at hand via the myriad of websites that can keep me up to date with the latest intrigue and shenanigans occurring across all walks of life.
My ambivalence arises partly out of lack of routine – I do have an idealised view of every morning flicking through the virtual pages of the paper whilst drinking my coffee and then heading off to the office, safe in the knowledge that I am fully informed of all news in life, business and finance. This never seems to happen. But I am also partly ambivalent because of the ‘noise’ of the news. There is a lot of it. But rarely is it packaged into parcels that neatly explain the back story, the context and what I need to focus on in the now. Unfortunately, I consider myself a bit of a detail guy. Perhaps it is my legal training or maybe just my personality, but I don’t feel that I can pass judgement on an issue until I have all the information to hand and have considered both sides of the argument. So, if I want to truly understand what is going on, I need to do some digging and invariably that digging leads me to another aspect of the story which requires more digging! So by and large I lead a schizophrenic life, split on one hand by being blissfully ignorant of what is taking place around me and, on the other, utterly paranoid that I ought to know what is happening.
The catalyst that made me think about this is the recent events that took place in Australia with Facebook. I recall hearing something about Facebook stopping providing news flow on its platform in Australia as a result of some government regulation. To reiterate what I said earlier, it was one of those news items which piqued my interest but didn’t fully explain the whys or whats. Initially this piece fell into the mental bucket of ‘curious, but transitory so probably no need to investigate’. But something about it bothered me – I visualised the Facebook page with empty, black squares where the news should have been. It was then that I realised what it was that concerned me. Notwithstanding my indifference to the news, what if the only source of my information was Facebook and due to a whim arising from a dispute, that source was very suddenly and without notice removed. My mind went into overdrive, imagining the media tycoon in a Bond movie, feeding the world’s news with a biased propaganda or, as in this case, simply pulling the plug on the news flow thus rendering the population ill-informed of the events around them.
Of course, I am being over dramatic. There are multiple sources of news available to us and we can pick and choose – buy those papers that are more aligned to our thinking or take a contrarian approach and seek out those with diametrically opposing views. I suppose the point I am trying to make is how arbitrarily the information we rely on can be removed, purely at the whim of another.
Whilst I don’t wish to conjure up conspiracy theories, it does make me think about the extent to which the information we receive is managed and controlled to the benefit of those organisations facilitating the delivery. Indeed, given I shall be delivering this post through LinkedIn, perhaps I should be concerned about the algorithm applied to determine who does and who does not see the post. My Yin is saying ignore it; if something truly important happens in the world, you’ll get to hear about it. Fighting against that my Yang is saying immerse yourself in lots of different news sources to diversify the biases. Perhaps being ambivalent isn’t such a bad approach after all.