There was an explosion on social media over an incident between school boys, on an official school trip to demonstrate in Washington DC, shown in a video vocally berating a Native American elder. Here is one of the latest articles about it, showing additional video — don’t doubt what you saw with your eyes. Mainstream media, like our own Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, are trying to establish a very difficult-to-find middle ground. I have opinions on what I have seen and read but I am not ready to share these in public. I am talking about them in private with some trusted friends and colleagues. I will share if and and when it is appropriate.
“It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure”, wrote Clay Shirky a decade ago. As the online space of social media gets more polluted and manipulated by trolls, bots, and hidden agendas, then filters become critical. Sensemaking cannot be done alone. Every thinking person has to find ways to understand issues of importance. If professional journalists can be co-opted by bots, what about the rest of us?
“Using bots to seed a divisive meme is akin to lightly blowing on an ember to start a fire. In a healthy society, that ember quickly burns out, starved for fuel. In a society in transition, the landscape is littered with desiccated institutions and ideas, ready to ignite.” —John Robb
We know that people see what they want to see. The key is to find other people, in our knowledge networks and communities of practice, who can help us see better by providing more and different sensemaking filters. Sources such as the Media Bias Chart can help us decipher broadcast media. Individuals are much more difficult. That’s why it is best to continually develop trusted networks of people with varying expertise and experience. Connecting to people in other countries can also give us a direct conduit in understanding a situation there, unfiltered by media.
Filter failure is a human failure. It means we are not connected to trusted communities that have the cognitive diversity we need to make important decisions. In a digitally mediated society our filters become our eyes and ears. By engaging with others and understanding their perspectives we can build a resilient network to draw upon. We have to keep adjusting it and not become complacent because it’s too easy to stop thinking and rely on old mental maps.
“We cannot cope with an inconceivable number of things, but we can cope with an inconceivable number of combinations of a conceivable number of things … The hierarchies we create are the fictions we need to stop our over-developed awareness from damaging our sanity … But the solution of complication comes with a price, and the price is amnesia. At the start, our maps are conscious creations, and we discuss and experiment as we refine them to suit our needs. But eventually, inevitably, we forget that our structures are fictions and our conditions are choices, and our maps become our prisons. Every map we build becomes the territory it once represented, and only in the places where it has worn bare can you see the reality that still lies beneath it.” —Cynthia Kurtz
We need knowledge maps, and relations, that change with the times. It’s a lifelong work in progress and this is closer to what the management pundits are calling continuous learning than most things on offer from the education and training arena. Without human sensemaking filters, we are blind. Personal knowledge mastery is one discipline that can open our eyes to the diversity of human expertise by finding communities and engaging in knowledge networks.