Thursday, 24 March 2016

The News You Lose Is The News You Don't Choose

The above image is a meme doing the rounds. Personally, the most obvious response I have is that for evolutionary reasons that served us well in our ancestry, we humans are primed to have a greater interest in certain groups over others, whether that's caring more about family and friends than strangers, caring more about whether burglaries are rife in your neighbourhood than a neighbourhood 250 miles away, or paying more attention to terrorist events relative to geographical proximity - there's no reason to be surprised that this is what happens. Strong and weak ties are in our DNA.

The other perhaps slightly less obvious factor is that whether we like it or not, the media is driven by human feeling and viewpoints far more than it drives them - it reflects the interests of the demographic to whom it is trying to sell its news stories. This means that, for good or for bad (and I personally think for bad a lot of the time), they are less likely to feature a news story on a terrorist attack in the Ivory Coast or Somalia if they can't in some way connect it to the perceived interests of their demographic. Instead they will too often opt for news stories that involve more local interests at the expense of what their readers deem to be less important or too distant news.

As much as I wish it weren't the case, the often toxic co-dependency between media provider and the public is not too dissimilar to the one between politicians and the electorate that votes them in - it is bound to lead to sub-standard results. We have so many misjudged members of the public that demand their wishes and views are represented by politicians. As Bastiat pre-empted in his great 'seen and unseen' essay, most people only have (or allow themselves) enough intellectual wherewithal to focus on how things affect an easily identifiable group, rather than how things affect all groups. 

Consequently, then, the selection pressure for politicians to be socially, politically and economically astute is diminished by their knowledge of the electorate's lack of astuteness in these areas. The same can be said for the media - the selection pressure on how they inform their consumers is largely driven by the consumers themselves. The antidote to any of the ethnocentrism and parochialism that exists as conveyed in the above image is to be discerning about where one gets one's news. There are plenty of media outlets that are more likely to ensure they cover a terrorist attack in the Ivory Coast or Somalia at the expense of news items about who won the Brit Awards and whose wife John Terry is currently shagging.

As this blog title alliteratively suggests: the news you lose is the news you don't choose, which is another way of saying that the quality of information you receive is roughly commensurate with the quality of the search, and the extent to which you care about other human beings irrespective of ethnicity, skin colour and geography.