Many of us are getting depressed and pessimistic about the state of society, whether it be the big one — climate change — or the many smaller problems facing us — populism, extremism, anti-science movements, xenophobia, etc. One of the biggest frustrations is that the various camps just do not talk to each other with any intention of understanding. In addition, social media — the preferred source of news for many people — tend to increase the outrage. The medium is the message, said Marshall McLuhan, and this medium is all about emotion. Often, our self-perception of knowledge acquired through social media is greater than it actually is. Social media have created a worldwide Dunning-Kruger effect.
If the medium is the message, and constant outrage fuels the media in order to sell advertising then how can we make the situation better? The medium is not just the message, it is our environment and we collectively need new media literacy. But this is not the kind of literacy most educators and politicians are talking about. It’s not just new skills that we need, but new attitudes. And we know, or should know, that training and education are mostly useless when it comes to changing attitudes. Our attitudes and emotions are not driven by logic.
“Sorry to break it to you but arguments and facts don’t change people’s minds. It’s been proven neurologically that only relational warmth, not a war of words, can light up our neocortex awakening us to something new.” —@danwhitejr
For example, a mandatory education class in Ontario, Canada, complete with videos and health care professionals to advise, has been useless in getting parents to accept vaccinations for their children.
But since it was introduced in 2017, thousands of mothers and fathers have dutifully watched the video, collected their “Vaccine Education Certificate” — then continued to duck the shots.
As one public health manager put it: “We had a zero percent conversion rate.” — National Post 2019-03-15
Education is not the answer. Even highly educated people can be bigots, racists, and misogynists.
The philosopher Umberto Eco wrote about 14 facets of fascism which was summarized by Jason Kotke and I suggested 14 ways to counter these tendencies. Not once does education appear to be the appropriate counter-measure. In summary, my main suggestions are:
- Get out and meet different people outside your social circles
- Use science to back up your thoughts
- Take time to reflect
- Criticize and be critical
- Accept ambiguity
- Cooperate and give to your networks and communities
- Be skeptical of stories, especially via social media
Education can support these practices but these are mostly ways of living and acting in our everyday lives. The secret of freedom lies in the people taking control of their own education — citizen sensemaking. It also requires the sharing of institutional power. Families, communities, institutions, and the market are all inadequate to address the reversal effects of global digital media. Only networks of humans, learning to trust each other, can counter these effects.
For society to change, we all have to start making small changes. Get out and talk to other people. Change your travel habits. Read more and different literature. Take some to sit and reflect. It sounds simple, and it is, but keeping at it will be the hard part.
I would be very happy to learn about other ways to address the constant outrage of our digitally mediated world.