I am obsessed with the idea that our lives are shaped by the things people tell us, though these things – masquerading as facts – are likely something they heard from somebody else, who heard it from somebody else, who read it once in an email or in the comment boards, etc… There are wide misconceptions that get spread without nobody double checking to see if they are true, because it is simpler and natural to just accept this vague statement as a truth and spread it as so. These ideas are often small and casual, meant to push conversation forward or provide some sort of explanation to something nobody really knows.
I remember rumors being spread in the midst of the Napoleon Dynamite age, that lead actor Jon Heder had died. I can’t remember the way he was rumored to have died, but NAPOLEON DYNAMITE HIMSELF was dead! This was also said to be true of the guy who played Kel in Nickolodeon’s Keenan and Kel. There was also a rumor that Steve Burns, host of Blue’s Clues, was a drug addict and left the show to go to rehab or died of an overdose.
Of course none of these rumors were true, but at various points in time I at least sort of believed them, and knew plenty of people who did. When presented as the facts, there was no reason to not believe them, but after about 10 seconds of research one obviously finds out they are not true. If these are perpetuated as truths, how much more so will deeper and more complex false ideas also be believed?
Single narratives are easily believed and are easily spread.
When we hear a story about something, it shapes our opinion, how we view the facts. Reading an article or, let’s be honest, a headline in your Facebook/Twitter/whatever feed makes you believe that something is true without ever considering any counterpoints or evidence. The idea comes in and we unconsciously allow it to shape our viewpoint – we are even prone to argue against others on that point even though we’ve only read the headline!
It is a natural thing to accept an idea as truth, unless one has already accepted a counter viewpoint to be truth, this is where cognitive dissonance comes in.
This is one of the reasons why I think a call for diversity in learning and entertainment is necessary. We must diversify the voices that we hear, refusing to accept these single narratives.
Today it is easy to shape the types of people we want to hear. The pages we like on Facebook, the people we follow on Twitter, the channels we turn on, etc… We have the ability to choose who we want to hear (something that I, frankly, enjoy). With this ability to choose who we hear, we can also choose who we filter out, making us each susceptible to only allowing in voices that reaffirm our opinions, inform our biases, and tell of our experience. It’s easier to do so.
Shaping a feed to match your own interests and opinions is fine, that is what it is made for. But in order to avoid ignorance, to gain a wider perspective on the world’s affairs we should aim for diversity; for a bit of cognitive dissonance. We should hear opinions from those further left or right from where we are politically. We should listen to the experiences of those of different religious ideologies. We should intentionally seek out those of different ethnic or socioeconomic backgrounds to hear their perspectives on every day life. This not only refers to our news feeds, but those whose writing we read, movies we watch, radio stations we listen to, food we eat, etc…
We have an inclination to accept whatever we hear, sometimes we intentionally keep this to those within our own worldview, sometimes we accidentally do, but it’s important to reach out beyond, accept the contradictory, do the research, and listen to the outsider.