Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mr. Miyagi was right, it is about balance........

The information age.  It should more correctly be termed the over-information age.  The Internet has turned most of us now into amateur pundits and analysts on a variety of subjects.  Myself included.  I spend a fair amount of time in front of my computer reading.  Basically when I am home relaxing, my lap top is in front of me a lot of the time.  I am emailing, facebooking, blogging, reading my favorite news sites (which range from the New York Times, to Haaretz, Huffington Post to the New Republic, to the National Review and yes, People Magazine, E! and Lainey Gossip (which are all for a different kind of news).  I am always literally astounded by the number of people that comment on these sites.  While many of them I am sure are well informed, there are a lot of blowhards out there spouting their opinions out there, and sometimes being downright cruel and obnoxious about it.  Depending on my mood, I find these opinions entertaining and downright hilarious to frustrating and even sometimes feel that 'what is wrong' in today's society can be found within the annals of these weird halls.  

I come from a family where politics and social issues were always prominently discussed at the dinner table.  We weren't the Kennedy's or anything, but my dad was very well read and in his life went from being a Kennedy  democrat to being a Reagan democrat to being a moderate republican and then finally after realizing that both parties were not a true reflection of his beliefs, he became an independent.  Still, through it all my dad always read press, articles and publications from all sides of the aisle (democrat, republican, conservative, liberal) and my dad's views on different topics spanned the line from all sides.  For instance he was always a firm pro choice supporter, believing that forcing a woman to bring an unwanted child into the world was not good for anyone and probably contributes to higher crime rates in the US.  On the other hand, he was in favor of smaller government, believing that it was big business that creates most of the jobs, therefore it was important for the government to provide incentives so that they would keep creating jobs. I used to love to go to my grandparents' house and listen to my dad and grandfather talk about politics, the economy or social issues.  It was like being at Wimbeldon (or what I imagine that is like, since I am not now and have never been a sports' fan), watching that ball go back and forth over the net.  Sometimes my grandfather served a zinger and sometimes it was my dad who had a powerful backhand.  

My dad and my grandfather both spent a lot of time reading newspapers.  Our houses were always littered with newspapers, in the bathroom, bedroom and near their favorite chairs there was always a stack of newspapers, magazines and political journals.  As a kid I used to sometimes think, 'how much can they read'?  At our house we got 2 newspapers a day, the Sunday New York Times, Time, Newsweek, US News and World Report, the New Republic, and the National Review.  My grandfather subscribed to a lot of these as well plus a lot of historical journals which they traded back and forth like baseball cards.  

When I first became eligible to vote in 1984 (getting a small stomach ache from admitting that I am that old), I pretty much asked my dad who he was voting for and why and followed suit.  Although it does pain me a little that in my first two Presidential Elections, I voted for Republicans (yep, Reagan and Bush 1.0), still when I remember who the Democratic nominees I don't have any real regrets.  I still don't think either Walter Mondale or Michael Dukakis would have been good Presidents.  Somewhere around 1990, when I had gone back to college after a 3 year hiatus and decided to study history and political science, my dad bought me subscriptions to the New Republic, US News and World Report, the National Review and the New York Times and he told me that if I was going to be really well informed  I needed to read news and history from a variety of different sources, that every publication had a message that it was trying to sell to the public and that the only way to be truly informed was to read from every end of the political spectrum and only then form my opinions.  

Now with the Internet and the ready access, 24 hour news cycle, news itself has become entertainment and people have become more polarized.  People seem, from the thousands upon thousands of comments that ordinary citizens make on news sites make every day, to grab onto a 'point of view' as an absolute, whereby anything slightly outside of that is wrong, dangerous and detrimental to American culture.  Is it possible that where information on just about anything is so readily available and where people are reading more news than ever before that we are possibly less informed?  I am sure studies on this have been done at Princeton or University of Southwest Dayton or something but I think it is pretty interesting that in the information age, we are less informed.   
For instance, this morning I read an article which ran in one of the UK Telegraph Blogs which states 10 reasons why the Obama Presidency is in free fall.   To see the article, click here.   The interesting part is that the article quotes declining poll numbers to state that Obama's approval ratings are extremely low for a President who is 18 months in office.  After I read this, I started looking at the net and found another article which is a direct rebuttal to this article which shows that the numbers do not vet this out.  This article from shows by the numbers that it is not the situation.

I am quite sure many people will read this article and assume that every word in it is gospel, and tout it as if it is their own thoughts and opnions your picnics and barbecues tell their friends and family and on and on from there.  

Form your own opinion but please make sure you are reading information from all sides of the aisle before you do. I can respect different opinions, what I find difficult is when people get all their opinions from one source and try to pass that off like it is some kind of informed opinion.  It's one of the most valuable lessons and some of the best advice my dad gave me.

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