Moving into a bigger country as an immigrant, one of my biggest challenges was deciding the right cereal to buy. It was never an issue growing up because my decision just had to be which flavour of Cerevita (the most popular cereal at that time), and only had to decide just that part of the month when we had money for cereal, otherwise it would be good old porridge with peanut butter, all organic by the way. I thought it was just an immigrant problem, until I read about a local boomer who was having trouble buying jeans over the shelf. “Skinny or medium tight,” the shop owner asked? “Normal,” he responded. “Bell bottomed or straight?” “Normal.” “Stretching jeans or….,” The old man was getting annoyed till he yelled, “ I just want jeans that used to be the only jeans! is that too much to ask for? “ It’s called the paradox of choice… and that is my problem with the internet…
But this isn’t about jeans or cereal but everything else that actually matters, which makes it worse. When I prepare my daughter for school, the few times I do, I don’t ask her, “what do you want to wear?” I ask, “do you want this or that?” Just two options. The problem isn’t really giving people choice, it’s about guided options. She would pick a cute dress any day, even with negative temperatures and a heavy snowfall just because she wants to look like a princess. Not everyone is mature enough to handle the luxury/priviledge of choice
The problem with the internet is that it gave everyone a voice. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, when everyone shares it, the undecided and uninformed become confused. This can spread really quickly as misinformation. There is something about saying or hearing things over and over again. They start to sound exactly like the truth. Read or watch The Secret.
We can’t ignore how polarized the US is at this time. “But you’re not even American, “ a friend of mine tried to tell me. “I know but they’re our main trading partner,” I tried to justify why I’m so invested. But the truth is, the whole world does care about what happens there. As I write, it’s a week after Election Day and not one person is 100% sure who will be president. If you have been following a certain side however, you may be more confident of one side. That’s just because social media is designed to feed you based on your interests. Have you heard of infinite scroll? Yes that’s it. But it goes beyond social media, any kind of information source that uses the internet, may at some point tend to lean towards a certain side, incl traditional media.
That is why Obama would say if your only source of news is social media, you are not getting a full picture. Chimamanda Ngozi would say there is always another side to the story. And Denzel would say if you don’t read the newspaper you are not informed, if you read it you are misinformed. So what do we do now? “Until the lion learns how to write every story will glorify the hunter,” Chinua Achebe. Again, is that the solution?
Twitter is trying to control the spread of misinformation by fact checking against people’s tweets. Facebook was slower to adopt, arguing we shouldn’t be the prefect or gatekeeper to determine what is true. It does make sense also. But now they do by placing a statement next to a post suggesting a better source or truth. Again, it’s still a suggestion, just a more trusted one. But it just seems to happen more for some people than others. A flaw or intentional? Again, algorithms aint perfect.
We can only try. That’s why people invented democracy. It’s an attempt to make everyone happy, but again, it’s not perfect. There is no democracy in my home. Ultimately the parents decides what car to buy or which place to live. Not even God rules by democracy. He is Sovereign. We all think we like choice. How are you doing with your thousand choices of what to watch on Netflix? How much time do you spend trying to decide vs actually watching? In fact, Netflix is trying out a ‘ cable like’ type of service in France, just because sometimes people just want to be given stuff before they have to decide. In fact, someone discovered that people don’t always know what they want until they have it. He gave you a phone with one button ( they have since removed) and a camera before you asked. His name is Steve jobs and his company became the first trillion dollar company ever. They even removed the headphone jack, and you don’t remember it. Choice is good, but guided choice is better. But who guides?
Honestly, I don’t know the solution. I can only suggest that your only source of information not be just this article, or social media. Read something else , an actual book maybe. Follow someone you don’t always agree with. Hear the other point of view and challenge your assumptions. And in your search, be kind to everyone. Everyone is fighting a harder battle.