Post No.: 0382
It’s utterly crucial to read the articles – not just the headlines or summaries presented in news feeds or social media posts – and to read them carefully to the very end. News articles often make attention-grabbing clickbait statements in their headlines that can be easily misread or misconstrued by the casual reader. They’re sometimes intentionally made to sound ambiguously inflammatory or misleadingly surprising, and only when you read the article do you realise it’s not the story you thought the headline was suggesting – it was just sensationalised to get you to click on it. I’m pretty sure you’ve come across many examples before, particularly on gutter press news sites!
This is a common practice because once you’ve clicked onto their page, the news or blog site receives advertising revenue if it has adverts on its pages. (You can see that this blog isn’t an example of such a site though. This blog concentrates on the information rather than any revenue – woof!) It’s okay or necessary to make money but for many sites it’s primarily about making money rather than disseminating facts or honest thoughts unfettered by commercial interests. There’s sometimes a conflict of interest between maximising the truth and maximising revenues, and if money comes first then the plain truth comes second.
Another common pattern is to only state near the end or bottom of an article, and/or in merely one or two lines out of the dozens of paragraphs in an entire article, that an expert actually ‘expresses caution with taking the findings or claims presented in the article as clear or concrete’. Similarly on consumer advice TV shows, a common technique is to play up the potential benefits of a product, diet, exercise or whatever for several minutes but only during the last 15 seconds or so will they say, “But it’s too early to say for sure that x does y”! Such lines can be easily missed or many viewers don’t pay enough attention or weight to these nuances or caveats to the main headline’s claims. Our attention or concentration spans are generally low.
An example of a problem if one only reads the title and not the content is the book The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. The title of this popular book was once hijacked and eulogised, before the 2007/2008 Financial Crisis, by those who wanted to confirm their biases that ‘greed is good’, but much of the content is about how altruism possibly evolved because these traits at the organism level can, in certain contexts, serve the overall survival and reproduction of genes at the gene level. (The economist Adam Smith’s theory of markets was also predicated on the assumption that people were not inherently selfish or greedy, and he mentioned, “All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind” in The Wealth of Nations. But anyway.)
News aggregator services or apps are handy but can be very bad to rely on because the benefit of a ‘personalised newspaper’ is also precisely its problem – they help create filter bubbles because users can finely select their sources of news and the areas of news they want to hear from, or therefore ignore. Maybe we cannot blame these services or apps then, but how users choose their sources or sometimes just read the snippets of news without going further into reading the full articles? Whatever the perspective, they’ve become a common way for many people to get their news.
Similarly, receiving one’s daily news from social media platforms like Facebook is concerning. Social media is increasingly how lots of people around the world access news nowadays. An algorithm that keeps giving you more of what (it thinks) you already want, which usually means what you already believe, will just narrow your mind over time. It leads to ever-polarised beliefs and divisions within communities, as extreme views one way or the other form and reinforce. Some e-commerce sites can also continually recommend literature or other items that are similar to what you’ve already bought or browsed before.
With so much in the modern online world trying to grab our limited attentions – news articles, videos and other informational sources have moved towards serving more bite-sized messages in news feeds and clips, which frequently result in over-simplifications and hyperbole. (Hopefully you can see again that this blog isn’t an example of such a site. This blog is for the relatively few who want to start to explore subjects more deeply rather than superficially. Yet these posts are hardly as lengthy as the total of the scholarly tomes, long lectures and other sources Fluffystealthkitten and I had to learn from to condense and create this material!) In a troubling state of affairs, most people don’t want to read ‘too much’ anymore. This reflects the modern market of supply and demand, but education arguably shouldn’t be commercial or market-driven to quite this extent. Just like junk food or other vices – just because we want it every day, it doesn’t mean it’s good for us every day.
Like exercise, reading is nowadays considered more as something to put under ‘hobbies and interests’ rather than something that should be so common for everyone that it’s not even worth mentioning!
The attitude of ‘TL;DR’ or ‘too long; didn’t read’ is worrisome. As is the way that divisive, anger-provoking content grabs more attention than nuanced, thought-provoking content. It’s partly why ‘fake news’ spreads easier and faster than the truth within echo chambers. Stupidity and hate rule in this sort of world. Most people don’t want to read too much because most people aren’t really looking to be educated – they’re looking to confirm their existing biases.
Written and spoken pieces should indeed not be needlessly long but ‘TL;DR’ is often used to blame something that’s long (or ‘long’) to deflect from one’s laziness or apathy. It’s often stated in a way like, “This is personally too hard or effortful for me so I quit. LOL”(!) It’s often used to flippantly and fallaciously ridicule a factual or opinion piece even though one hasn’t fully read it yet, hence it avoids reasoned debate. It’s anti-intellectual because it’s not saying that the arguments presented within an article were terrible – it’s a criticism of the form or presentation rather than the content. It’s often basically saying that it takes too much time to learn something or to open one’s mind so one didn’t bother, or one will rely on someone else to (over)simplify it all first.
I suppose what’s difficult for one person is not for another, hence there’s no one-size-fits-all ‘right amount of content difficulty’, and why age-appropriate teaching and toys are best for children. So nothing can ever please everyone, and sources of information that are simple will suit some (or most) people, and sources that are longer, more comprehensive and technical will suit others.
Nonetheless, sometimes learning is suffering because a subject is tough or it’s stuff we don’t want to personally read or hear. It’s the individual’s loss but collectively it’ll lead to an Idiocracy future if people will only practise reading short sentences and paragraphs, only read 280 characters at a time, or only watch colourful videos with people speaking with voices and styles as if talking to young children! Even MOOCs used to be longer but have now generally been broken down into shorter courses (16-week courses are rare nowadays); although the full contents are still available – just in several parts.
Although good communication skills are important and any writing must be tailored to the target audience – do people have such small working memories to struggle to read a sentence if it’s greater than 20 words long? Repetition aids learning and memory too. And if people are judging the content of a paragraph based on its length rather than the actual content and only the content itself, then it’s as bad as judging a person’s intelligence based on their gender or another superficial attribute. It speaks more about the judger than the judged. We know that ‘fluency’ or ‘cognitive ease’ is a fallible cognitive bias – the ease that something can be mentally processed is not the same thing as its accuracy, reliability or truthfulness. (The concept of ‘desirable difficulties’ states that learning tasks should require a certain level of effort because overly easy tasks can give the illusion of learning.)
Verbosity is not proof but neither is curtness. Repetition aids learning and memory too! People who don’t read long articles, or will only read long articles if they appear to confirm their existing biases – which is probably more accurate to what’s really happening – won’t learn anything deeply and broadly enough (where ‘a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing’ too) and they will be easily influenced by headlines or summaries, which are often over-simplified, over-exaggerated and emotionally divisive rather than fair and factual.
Likewise, instruction manuals shouldn’t be confusing but they might necessarily be long. Yet some people won’t even study a manual at all. But it’ll be their loss again, in this case for buying something (expensive) but not making the most of it. This includes security-related features or settings.
It’s related to not taking responsibility for one’s own choices – people don’t want to read the terms and conditions of services, which sometimes need to be that long (although a summary of the key clauses would admittedly be nice), yet will agree to them anyway, then hope to pass responsibility for looking after their interests onto the companies (but this usually presents a conflict of interest for those companies) or the government (who’ll need the funding to do so). Many companies know that virtually no one actually reads their terms and conditions so they’ll just declare as many rights as possible for themselves (e.g. a blanket grant for them to use, copy, adapt, publish, distribute, etc. any content that users upload on their platforms) even if they don’t currently need those rights, because they could be monetised later. Companies do firstly need to make their contracts as simple to understand as possible, and government regulations can absolutely play a part in ensuring this – but consumers also need to do their part and bother to read and understand at least abridged T&Cs or the key clauses.
Most people don’t carefully read the backs of packaging to inspect the ingredients lists or nutrition information of foods and drinks, and then are surprised about what they contain or fail to contain! Humanity is dumbing down, or has always been dumb, because many people cannot be bothered to inform themselves – and then such people will blame others for not telling them stuff! And so we need regulations to ensure people make the best decisions for themselves.
Not everyone who votes even reads the party manifestos first – we won’t know which promises are being kept unless we know what promises were made!
There are enough people in this world who’ll routinely follow misinformation and hyped-up claims of cures, conspiracies, etc. that it’s scary. So much that’s popular on the web is generally banal or mindless ‘content’ that doesn’t advance the world too. But I hope you can see that Fluffystealthkitten and I are trying our best to contribute to generating useful content on the web, even if it’s just a drop in a vast ocean. Comfortable modern life where tech and services hand things on a plate to us has been dumbing people down in many ways. But we don’t want to personally contribute to dumbing down the world. It’s like convenience foods are easy, attractive, ‘handed on a plate’ and a godsend in certain situations, but let’s not make them the absolute norm where cooking for oneself is history.
Well I guess you, my valued reader, are at least somebody who reads stuff to the very end… so thank you. <3