I am NOT recommending that you do what I have done. I am, however, going to share with you my journey to being purposeful about how and where I spend my time gathering information. What prompts sharing this little diatribe are several articles, podcasts, and posts about how the content writers manipulate us. Moreover, as always, I am concerned about how manipulation and information bias affects us as we lead our businesses.
A couple of the pieces mentioned above were written to help the readers use the latest techniques for their blog posts and websites. Some were designed to help listeners be more successful in selling their products or services. What they all had in common was their use of the latest neuroscience insights to manipulate the audience. Blatant manipulation tactics seem to be the order of the day.
Many years ago, now, I stopped watching any cable or broadcast TV. What prompted me to do that was mainly the annoying ads that used up to 30 minutes of a one-hour time-slot. I no longer listen to the news on the radio. Instead, I stick to multiple written news sources along with audio, and video podcasts. That way, I can make sure I understand what was said, and I have the opportunity to research the information.
I also closed down Facebook, although I do still use Instagram (a Facebook property). I no longer answer my phone if a name isn’t displayed. When not face-to-face, I communicate with Text and E-mail. Life has become much less aggravating for me.
I use multiple web browsers. I have one set up to open several sites when I launch the browser. I open a tab with Google News using sources I select so that I purposely get different viewpoints (and avoid sports). A separate tab opens the New York Times, and the next one picks the Wall Street Journal. The following tabs open Scientific American, the I.E.E.E. Spectrum, the Economist, and the Five-Thirty-Eight website for analysis of the political news and polling. It is much information in one place.
I must admit that as long as I launch that browser at least a couple of times a week and spend an hour or so each time, I am just as up on the news as anyone else—without “live” TV. Moreover, I have the advantage of having at least a cursory look at “both sides” of a topic. I can see what liberal news covers and doesn’t cover, and the same for conservative news. What’s interesting is when articles on the same topic are included in both the WSJ and the NYT they are usually pretty close in content. News is news in both cases. What seems to make one organization “liberal” and the other “conservative” is what they cover rather than how they write about it. The opinion pages, however, are quite the opposite. The opinion writers generally have a specific ax to grind.
There is something more important I see in what my careful media consumption has uncovered. When I speak with many of my peers, I find that they usually have only one source of information. They have only one view of the topics affecting us all. From opinions on vaccinations to how we should handle complex issues such as immigration, they frequently do not even understand the opposing viewpoints and how people form them. They choose their experts based on whether or not that person agrees with their point of view rather than on solid credentials. Confirmation bias is real. The “echo chamber” exists. Also, based on what I hear, it is more dangerous than I thought. “Fake news” has always been with us. Today, however, it has many more platforms that are farther reaching than our news sources of old.
I don’t think many folks will go to the extremes I’ve gone to concerning information consumption. Still, I detect some exhaustion among my peers. They say they are tired of the endless news cycle and constant political wrangling. Liberal or Progressive, Conservative or Libertarian, and even those who are Moderate or Independent are expressing frustration and exhaustion with our present situation. I can only hope that translates to thoughtful action. I believe this will all work out. Meanwhile, as leaders, I hope we will take control of our information. Whether it is local, national, political, business trends, or global news, we need to know how to help our leadership teams navigate our business strategies based on as much unbiased information as possible. We need to ask questions that steer the organization toward learning more about multiple points of view. Most of all, we need to be open to various viewpoints ourselves. We can lead by example.