Seeking Truth in an Age of Information Overload

Drunk (not Angry) Birds

Yes, you heard it right. And this is not a new video game. National Public Radio (NPR) reported incidences of birds “flying while intoxicated (FWI).” This took place in Gilbert, Minnesota. The birds were noticed crashing into trees and windshields. According to police, their “tipsy” behavior was the result of eating fermented berries. This especially happened to the younger birds who could not handle the level of alcohol in the fermented berries. Ingestion of these fruits caused confusion and disorientation. They lost coordination and their natural ability to escape predators due to poor judgement in flight. A trusted source of nutrition had become detrimental to their ability to fly successfully.

In an age of information overload, we need trusted sources. Unlike the undiscerning birds, we must develop the ability to sift and sort through information fermented with rumors, innuendo, propaganda, and lies. To avoid the “intoxication” of the readily available berries of false information.

Trusted Sources

With many of our big decisions based on information we access, caution must be exercised to ensure that the information acted on is backed by a trusted source. Trust is the bedrock on which anything valuable and sustainable is built. A question and answer is posed on the Thomson Reuters website, “Trusted answers from trusted sources? Now that’s a precious and rare commodity.” I agree wholeheartedly. Trusted sources simplify the complex, create confidence, provide clarity, and reduce vulnerabilities.

Internet security is heavily rooted in trusted sources. If you have a smartphone, you probably download applications to your phone from your designated app store. The app store can be referred to as a trusted source. For iPhone users it is “App Store” while for Android, it is “Google Play.” When an attempt to download an application from an outside source is made, depending on your security features, your phone may give you an “unknown source” notification. Proceeding with the download is at your own risk. Some applications are disguised with malware  and may make your phone vulnerable to attack.

Facebook, the social media giant, has taken steps to reduce the amount of public content flooding the site by using trusted sources for News Feed. Here is what CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in 2017:

“Today I’m sharing our second major update this year: to make sure the

news you see, while less overall, is high quality. I’ve asked our product

teams to make sure we prioritize news that is trustworthy, informative,

and local. And we’re starting next week with trusted sources.

There’s too much sensationalism, misinformation and polarization in

the world today. Social media enables people to spread information faster

than ever before, and if we don’t specifically tackle these problems,

then we end up amplifying them. That’s why it’s important that News Feed

promotes high quality news that helps build a sense of common ground.”

As a writer and communicator, I strive to ensure that I use trusted sources for the information I provide in my talks, blogs, and books. To facilitate this, I use a three pronged diagnostic approach.

1.Check your Filter

Instead of purchasing water from the store, I use a pitcher with a filter inserted for drinking water. The filter removes impurities or contaminants and acts as a barrier for me and my family. Visual inspection of water is not adequate to decide its quality. Likewise, we cannot determine what information is fit for our consumption without filters in place. Our eyes, ears, and mouth act as access points to our thoughts and eventually decisions and lifestyle.

Internet security filters like McAfee help to protect your system while you surf the internet and also keeps spam messages out of your email inbox.

By having the correct filters in place, we create a “truth first” culture in our lives when it comes to the information we are exposed to daily. This is no easy task. As a rule of thumb an effective filter should be:

  1. Reputable: This means that it has been tested and found reliable and useful.
  2. Protective: This means it is able to keep away what is fake and not beneficial even when the access points cannot instantly recognize it.
  3. Authentic: It must be genuine with the aim of improving quality of life.

2. Weigh the Opinion

There were days when I feel good about my weight. This feeling forms an opinion until I step on the scale. My feeling subsides and my opinion fades as the truth became clear. There are days when the truth confirms my opinion. But there are days when I cannot handle the truth. Opinions can inflate our thinking. Decisions based on opinions alone create a faulty balance in life. Leonardo Di Vinci said, “The greatest deception men suffer is their own opinions.”

Opinions should be weighed on the scale of truth. The truth should inform our opinions and not vice versa. Most people use emotions, current mood, or feelings to form opinions but these are subject to change. Instead opinions should be weighed against the scale of truth principles such as honesty, integrity, and, sincerity.  

Just like your phone and apps go through continuous updates to remove bugs which affect performance, a scale must be calibrated often to remove inconsistencies and keep the truth front and center. We do this by reaffirming and reinforcing our principles.

3. Verify the View

Simply because someone has many followers and everything they say or do goes viral may not necessarily mean they can be trusted. For example, in 2016, BBC Earth reported that rapper B.o.B, boasting 2.21 million Twitter followers was out to convince his followers that the earth is flat. He even argued that NASA’s pictures of the earth are fake. We know the earth is round based on truth that has been discovered and unequivocally proven. But that hasn’t stopped him.

With the world moving faster through the influence of technology, it is easier to believe everything we read rather than verify it first. The fabric of our investigative nature is being eaten away by the eagerness to be the first to post, share, tweet, or retweet a view that might not be necessarily true.

I have provided a small questionnaire below to assist with verification of a view:

  1. Who? This refers to the credibility of the source or resource.
  2. What? This refers to the quality of what is said or written.
  3. Why? This refers to the purpose and level of responsibility the content carries.

Final Thought: Ignorance falls into two distinct categories. Uninformed and misinformed. But there is a third one that is gradually emerging; over informed. Through information overload, a slow erosion of truth is taking place. What’s trending rather than what’s true is becoming our preference. Truth, much like energy, can neither be created or destroyed. Truth is discovered. Opinions and views may become outdated but truth has and will always stand the test of time as a rare and precious commodity.

Keep on Keeping on!

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