Thoughts on Facts and Bullshit

Lets assume you are interested in how all this society thing around us works, might be saved from falling apart or even be improved. If so, it’s paramount to assess your information intake and adjust if necessary. There is no free will without consciously managing which information you bother to process and consider while trying to make up your mind about whatever task or topic at hand.

As there are more facts around than you could possibly grok or even try to keep track of, be careful directing your attention. Frustration will follow, if you fail. Don’t follow the easy path contending yourself with info-edu-tainment, curated content marketing knowledge-bites or soothing entertainment. Feeling overwhelmed by to much information, craving for ever more accurate information will reduce your potential for effective action as efficiently as a lack of information or acting on false assumptions.

You need to balance information intake, quality assessment and improving information habits with getting results. This is why you need to start with some basic idea on what you want to achieve. The aim or goal might be general “I want to keep up with what is happening in the tech domain.” or very specific “I need to capture as much relevant material on blockchain tech, to find out how to leverage it for postal applications.”. It is essential to define your information goals. How much time to spend, which sources to scan, the level of taking notes? Answers to these questions will be quite easily derived from your goals.

But it’s the fake news millenium and the human species might soon be extinct due to ruthless politicians spreading misinformation to win and direct voters in order to push their personal profit and agenda.

Well yes, lets have a colony on mars. It’s a great idea. Really great! But, well, let’s also recognize that fake news ain’t nothing new. People pushing their own agenda ain’t a new concept, too. Fake news, curated content, rhetoric,  propaganda, it’s news as old as the invention of language.

And for all this time it has been true that information around oneself – your filterbubble – is essentially what limits your capability by limiting your vision. It’s also true and tested that winning anybody over to take some point of view or course of action is emotional business.

I won’t get into the discussion of issues we have with networked communication. There is problems, massive ones, but I’ll stick to the personal level for now. What happened on the personal level?

  • The tools of communication changed massively
  • The mode and rhythm of communication changed massively
  • The scale of how many people can potentialy reach massive amounts of listeners changed

And at the same time:

  • The ease of accessing information and facts is better than ever
  • The ease of profiling the info sources by looking into other and previous stuff they did is better than ever
  • You need to check, assess and establish trust as you always needed to
  • You need to start from what is relevant for you personally

Following is the tweet pushing me to publish this post. It is good practical advice on how to think about information. There is facts, entertainment, lies and fake news, truthiness and bullshit. For advice on how to handle the latter Harry Frankfurt provides some interesting advice.

Bottom line: Ask yourself, if following the fake news debate provides value to your goals and life. I suspect for most of you, it does not. So pull your attention out and refocus on something relevant for your goals. The best way to defend against manipulation is knowing and following through on your own agenda.

This is why I am on a Trump diet. Not a hard one to keep, once I decided on it. It is perfectly sufficient to catch 10 minutes of Steven Colbert to not loose touch completely. That’s it. I won’t break more sweat on this than absolutely necessary. This allows for time to think, program, blog on stuff I find to be interesting. No Fake News will be able to stop you from focusing on what matters to you.

Humans are unbelievably skilled in not recognizing what they do not want to see. That is scary and your most important defense against bullshit at the same time.

If someone provides information to overwhelm, exaggerate or manipulate. Beware when someone is indifferent towards truth! Do not accept conclusions without thought. Revisit your goals and decide what makes sense for you to research, comment or act upon.

There are more options available to include into your toolkit. Just because a lot of people are fearsome in the face of abundant options, does not mean they are not there at all. It is you and your point of view that makes the difference.