“Opinions have never been formed in a vacuum. They’re infectious, as people copy one another. And when this process is made visible it sets off public opinion trends. As more of the public square has moved online, we’ve seen how these can grow monolithic and bitterly factionalised, stifling potentially important public deliberation: take, for example, the hysteria that shut down public discussion of lockdown trade-offs.” —The wisdom of crowds descends into meme wars
Is the print era irretrievably over and are we seeing the end of objective media, as described in the article above? But did print really give us objectivity? In Europe the printing press enabled individual interpretation of the bible and the Protestant Reformation which to this day keeps forking off new branches like a berserk open source software project. On the other hand, print enabled mass literacy, but also yellow journalism.
The rise of yellow journalism helped to create a climate conducive to the outbreak of international conflict and the expansion of U.S. influence overseas [1866-1898], but it did not by itself cause the war. In spite of Hearst’s often quoted statement—“You furnish the pictures, I’ll provide the war!”—other factors played a greater role in leading to the outbreak of war … The dramatic style of yellow journalism contributed to creating public support for the Spanish-American War, a war that would ultimately expand the global reach of the United States. —Office of the Historian archive
The effects of digital social media over the past two decades seem to be as powerful as print was centuries ago. Understanding these effects is critical for democratic societies to thrive. False narratives abound, especially relating to the current pandemic. Emerging demagogues in what were thought to be bastions of democracy are now aided by the borderless liquid transmissions of consumer social media and tribal platforms.
Education won’t counter populism — changing education might. Collectively we need to improve our sensemaking skills. Getting our information from limited sources blinds us to the complexity of our interconnected world. Mastering a single field is no longer enough. We are are the sum of our connections. To counter the constant outrage we need to find communities that encourage diversity and dialogue, because knowledge flows at the speed of trust. Practices such as personal knowledge mastery can help. PKM is a set of processes, individually constructed, to help each of us make sense of our world and work more effectively. PKM keeps us afloat in a sea of information — guided by professional communities and buoyed by social networks.