Information Pollution Alert! Living with Data Smog
In today’s world, we are inundated with data smog. This isn’t just a case of information overload; it’s a situation in which there is so much data that it’s difficult to extract meaningful information, let alone evaluate and act on it. What’s worse is that much of this smog is intentional, created to distract and misinform rather than inform and enlighten.
Marketing Wants to Keep Us Distracted
Marketing is one of the primary causes of information pollution. Rational, critical thinkers make for lousy consumers; deliberate and cautious evaluation of products and services muck up the democratic process that marketing so heavily relies on. As a result, marketing strategies often appeal to our primal impulses rather than our higher faculties of reason and logic.
The Rise of Dumb Parents
One example of how marketing pollutes our culture is the trend of portraying parents as dumb and uncool. This is not because it’s an accurate portrayal of reality but because it’s what the media producers’ customers want. Kids are not the customers, but instead, they become the product. The ads shown during kids’ TV shows are how advertisers buy the viewer’s attention while also conditioning the young minds with messages about the parents being clueless and uncool.
Distorting Scientific Research
Another form of intentional data smog is funded and biased research. Companies like Exxon-Mobil and tobacco manufacturers pay for research that is favorable to their interests, knowing the results will be biased heavily in their favor. This funding approach doesn’t help to encourage honesty or transparency from the companies responsible.
Dealing with Data Smog
The information pollution situation may never improve, especially as newer avenues and technologies for data to reach us emerge. However, that doesn’t mean we’re powerless. Here are some tips on how to navigate the smog:
1. Get Educated: Education is key to fighting data smog. Building a toolset of critical thinking and review will allow you to better determine what information is valuable and what is not.
2. Sharing Ideas: Engage with others to hear different opinions and ideas to help balance your perspective better. This approach can prevent the echo chamber effect that reinforces a skewed view of your own perception.
3. Winnow News Sources: Select a couple of daily sources of news while choosing two to four less frequent analytical sources of news and other informative content.
4. Learn Marketing Techniques: Understand how marketers work to identify when marketing techniques are being directed towards you.
5. Follow the Money: Look up funding sources for academic publications or consult exhaustive footnotes for action or news stories to determine potential bias.
6. Follow the Interests: Determine whose interests are coming into play in the information being presented.
7. Consume Critically: Evaluate the source’s perspective and their willingness to engage in open discussion on their position.
8. Does it Matter?: Determine if the information is worth your attention or just noise that only distracts from what really matters.
We may never be free of data smog, but we must learn to navigate it successfully. Education, communication, and critical thinking skills will all be vital in helping people distinguish between useful insights and smog that only creates confusion and disorientation. Whether or not we eventually rid ourselves of data smog entirely remains to be seen, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn how to breathe in clean air as we go about our lives.