How Much Do We Really Know?

When is knowledge enough to be useful or enough to be dangerous?

I have been asking myself that more and more these days. As I flick through the RSS feeds for the umpteenth time that day seeing the same ‘news’ on multiple feeds, and I listen to Sky News doing their ‘all the news in 15 minutes every 15 minutes’ bit for the 6th time in a row I think I know what is going on. I have heard it so many times, read the headlines until I can quote them backwards and standing on my head (while drinking a glass of wine on a good day!!).

I MUST know what is happening, after all I am ‘modern tech guy’ surrounded by information. I wake up in the morning and flick through my RSS feeds on the iPhone while ‘listening’ to Sky News. I sit at the Mac for hours on end with tweets flying in left, right and centre, RSS updates every 10 minutes, multiple IM chats open telling me ‘wow, heh, awesome’ about some breaking news story or other, I don’t even ‘waste’ time commuting. If anybody knows what is going on then it must be me right?

So why is it that when anyone asks me a specific question about a news item I look at them like a rabbit caught in the headlights? Sure I know what they are saying ……. remember I have seen the headlines. I probably even know what someone else has said about it, but what do I think about it?

Next question please!!!!!

When was the last time I sat down and really discussed a subject of substance with a group of people? You know the late night/early morning intense discussions at college when we really did know what was going on?

Errr ……. next question please!

OK an easier one then. When was the last time that I actually followed up on a news item? You know something caught my eye one day and didn’t become tomorrows ‘digital fish and chip paper’ the next? When I followed a subject through to completion.

Errr …….. yep you know by now, next question please!!!

In fact no, no more questions. I can’t answer them I need to go and read something and understand it, not assume that I know what is going on because I have convinced myself that somehow or other I have magically absorbed it through some saturation method or other.

I doubt very much that I am alone on this either, based on the discussions and conversations I have with people where it becomes apparent that the new definition of a debate is to repeat sound bites and third party opinions rather than personally constructed view points.

So what is the answer? How do I know, I flunked every question so far so how do you expect me to have the answer to this one!!!

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  1. I don’t mind reading – well, glancing over – several versions of the same story. As long as successive stories add new angles or interpretations and provide additional information to the story I originally read about elsewhere. As soon as I think that, given currently available information, the various sites are reaching saturation (and sometimes that doesn’t take very long!), I move on. I don’t do tweets and have never twittered. Colleagues might say that I frequently “witter”, but that’s entirely different! I also don’t do IM’s, so that’s me down to just RSS feeds.

    Yet, still, I often spend most of my time reading about what’s going on, instead of doing something myself. That’s the very real and constant danger!

    Now, I’m going off at a slight tangent… The thing that really annoys me about the “news”, as reported on the Interwebs, is the need to get a quote from somebody in the trade. Or a financial analyst. I often get the impression that they’re all desperate to get their own names in print and to hell with the actual “news” itself. It’s as if they want to be the celebrities of their field.

    A couple of years back, there was a guy from, I think, one of the stockbroker companies who was being quoted by so many sites that spotting his name became an instant – and I really do meaninstant – turnoff. In fact, to this day, the moment I see his name quoted in a story summary in an RSS feed, I instantly move on to the next post. I’ve more or less managed to repress the name, though I’d recognise it the moment I saw it.

    And don’t get me started on the qualities of the so-called journalists! I’m not talking about the “amateurs”, but the folks who work for “proper” magazines! I’ve had many more comments to news posts deleted (aka censored) at macworld.co.uk than have been permitted to remain. All because I’ve been (usually politely) critical of some aspect of their reporting and they’ve got really thin skins and can’t accept a little criticism…

  2. Glancing over isn’t reading …… that is my point πŸ™‚ I glance at loads of stuff and end up assuming I know what it is about.

    No IM’s ….. how do you survive πŸ™‚

    Totally with you on the ‘expert’ thing. I actually think that the news people actually think they exist to create the news, not to report on it

  3. > Glancing over isnÒ€ℒt reading Ò€¦Ò€¦ that is my point

    When I’ve properly read a story once already, I don’t need to do anything more than seek out the new details in subsequent stories. There’s nothing to gain in “reading” much the same thing again, hence the distinction of reading/glancing. Read first, then glance subsequently (in general).

  4. Sorry – it was “quite late” when I made the original comment. (Yawn…) I’m not always as coherent then as I might/should be at that sort of time. In fact, I really shouldn’t be allowed out to play on the internet after, say, midnight!

  5. > in my case it is once I have been drinking

    I know what you mean. I nearly spilled half my mug of cocoa over the keyboard when I was writing my original comment last night! πŸ™‚

  6. It’s called information overload. There are so many things going around the world, that it is hard to keep up with everything. Same goes on in the tech world. I just keep up with the things that interest me, and everything else is skipped. There is not enough hours in the day to cover everything.

  7. Ignorance is bliss, someone said. I can believe that. I usually pay attention to the stories that influence my life some how. Others are either amused interest or just ignored all together.

  8. As an old school Paper and News at 10 person I can see exactly what you mean!!! The main problem really is that with so many people wanting to ‘present’ the news there isn’t enough new news to go around, so they tend to try and create some πŸ™‚

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