Jan 19 2009

When is too much information, too much information?

Jamie Barrows


I read an interesting rant over the weekend. It’s titled "Is this the better world you were talking about?" And the main theme seemed to be the information glut that we are daily exposed to. And the point seemed to be that the information glut is causing more harm than good.

I’ve written about information overload in one of my posts before. But other than claiming I need to be better at dealing with it, I am pretty strongly of the opinion that more information is better than less.

The author of the article makes the point that a huge amount of the information out there these days is exaggerated or overreported. And he’s right. A lot of it is just exaggerated opinions and fearmongering. Bias and sensationalism is rampant in our news media. But is that really a difference from the past or a problem that needs to be fixed? As I posted in one of my posts over a year ago, I don’t see that as an issue. ALL NEWS is biased by the opinions and beliefs of the reporter. That holds true no matter what the medium (TV, Newspaper, Radio, Internet, etc.) is. As long as you can identify the bias of the reporter and know that it is there, you should be able to get the facts out of the story.

And as for being overwhelmed by the information, it isn’t all that hard to just turn off the TV, or not read the article. If the weather channel is giving you too much information, just don’t watch it. If you are constantly getting sucked into the conspiracy theories of fringe groups, stop listening to them.

The way I see it, it’s just a question of developing proper filters. People need to learn how to filter out the fringe extremist groups and make sure they get their news from multiple sources to recognize and counteract the bias present in any one source. They need to be disciplined enough to turn off the news feed if it is taking over their lives or becoming an obsession.

There will always be those people who can’t or won’t develop decent critical filters, but that doesn’t mean the world would be better off with less information. If you look at history, you will see that in almost every repressive society, much of that repression was accomplished by a strict control of information and the means of communication. That kind of control, in our information rich and information overloaded society,  is no longer possible.

These days we have true freedom to express our knowledge and opinions. And the luxury of being able to choose our sources of information and control the quantity of the information we receive. I don’t think I would want to give that freedom up or go back to the days of limited information.

Would you? Is there such a thing as too much information?

Jan 12 2009

Israel and Palestine

Jamie Barrows

There has been a lot of news lately about the current war in Israel. And most of what I’m hearing is that Israel is being too aggressive against the Palestinians and Hamas. I constantly hear the term "disproportionate response." And I see on the TV and in the news, images of the devastation in Gaza. Images that show children living in bombed out homes and shelters.

The images are heartrending. And I feel real sorrow for the people whose homes, businesses, schools, and marketplaces have been destroyed. It’s a terrible thing to have your livelihood and homes destroyed. War is horrible and without fail it causes suffering among innocents who have no part in it.

The consensus of most of the world, seems to be that Israel should respond to the rocket attacks proportionately. But what does that mean? Has anyone who is saying this really thought it through. Are people really advocating that Israel should lob a rocket at a Palestinian neighborhood every time Hamas sends one at Israel? That Israel should deliberately target civilians with rocket attacks the way Hamas does?

I’m not one of those people who thinks Israel can do no wrong. They often take a very heavy handed approach to their security and many of the things they have done in the past have not been good. But in this case I’m not sure that we can totally fault Israel for the devastation.

Yes, it is Israeli missiles, bombs, and tanks that have destroyed the homes and infrastructure of the Gaza strip, but I don’t see that Israel has a choice here. Hamas deliberately positions their rocket launchers in residential neighborhoods and in critical infrastructure installations. So if Israel is going to take out the rocket launchers, there will be civilian casualties. And neighborhoods will be destroyed.

Is Israel totally blameless for the sense of hopelessness and poverty that most Palestinian’s live in? A situation that creates great recruitment fodder for extremist groups like Hamas. Of course Israel isn’t blameless. But then neither are the Palestinians who have been given many chances to improve their lives and yet keep handing the reigns of power over to groups like Hamas. There is plenty of blame to go around, but as I said before, I don’t see that Israel has much choice in it’s response here.

It’s great to talk about proportionate responses when we are talking a trade dispute or increased tarrifs. But when it comes to bombs and rockets, I’m not sure it applies. Especially when those rockets are dropping on your neighborhood. The place where your kids and loved ones live! In that case, you want it to stop. And that is what Israel is doing here. They are trying to make it stop.

Try to imagine yourself in a typical Israeli’s situation. What would you do if the country next door to your own was so lawless that militant groups were able to constantly shoot rockets at your home and workplace? What would you do if the official government of that nation either could not or would not attempt to stop these attacks? Would you be able to sit by and just hope that the next rocket attack didn’t kill you or one of your loved ones?

Don’t let the rights and wrongs of Israel being there in the first place, or Israel’s past treatment of the Palestinians, sidetrack you from looking at it from the perspective of a normal working person. Just put yourself in the place of a typical person and ask what you would do in this situation. Would you demand action against the people who were attacking your neighborhood?

I know I would be calling on my government (the job of which is to protect me) to make it stop. Even if that meant my nation had to invade, bomb, and occupy the other nation. Because the safety of my family and loved ones is more important to me than whether the people shooting at me are justified in their anger against my nation.

Aug 21 2007

Do people want the facts or do they want opinions

Jamie Barrows

Eye Glasses
Techdirt has an interesting article on the changing face of media today. It seems that more and more people worldwide, particularly younger people, actually prefer to get their news from admittedly biased outlets.

That is, they don’t try to get their news from the main stream news outlets. They get their news from blogs and editorials. People actually prefer to read a story that contains the opinions and analysis of the reporter. They prefer it to reading stories or watching news that is just the facts. And more news outlets are taking note of that. Changing their reporting style to fit what their readers want.

Is this a bad thing, or a good thing? Is it good that people want biased news,or analysis of news over straight reporting? Well, I think it can be both bad and good. But mostly I think it’s a good thing.

If you only ever get your news from people who share the same biases and viewpoints you do, you will have a very distorted view of the world. Even if the facts in the stories are all truthful, reading the viewpoints of only one side will not give you a real picture of what is happening. Facts can be easily downplayed or enhanced in an editorial format. So that is bad.

But is that really any different from getting all your news from the normal reporting outlets(Main stream news networks)? I would say not. All news reflects the opinions and biases of the person reporting. The only difference is that in an editorial or analysis format, the bias or opinion is not hidden beneath a vernier of objectivity. In an editorial or analysis piece, you don’t have to try to guess the bias of the reporter.

I think that is really what is happening these days. Most people recognize these days that no matter how much a major news outlet claims to be objective, it isn’t. So they would rather get their news from someone who isn’t in effect, lying to them. They would rather get it from someone who tells them straight out which side they are reporting the story from. I know I do.

Getting your news that way isn’t really a problem, as long as you are careful to read opinions from all sides. That is the great thing about the Internet. You don’t have to look hard to get news from many different points of view.

Aug 8 2007

Are all opinions equally valuable?

Jamie Barrows


First off, this entire post is just my opinion. Now that we got that out of the way, I can begin my little rant.

Are all opinions equally valuable? This isn’t a politically correct or popular question to ask these days.
In the Web 2.0 world, every blog, news site, and search engine is filled with people posting their opinions on everything under the sun. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. The freedom to post and publish your own opinions and viewpoints is one of the very best things about the Internet. No longer are we tied to a few elite columnists and reporters for our news and analysis. But the ability to post does not necessarily mean you have the knowledge to contribute meaningfully to a topic.

The overall consensus in both the political world and the Internet world seems to be that all opinions are equally valuable. I think this is somehow an extension of the post modern idea that all positions, even contradictory ones, are equally true. But as I posted in a previous post, that is simply impossible and not rational. But lets get back to the opinions question.

Are some opinions more valuable than others? I would have to say yes. You might say that that is not really all that controversial. After all, that is why we get the opinions of experts. Who would you go to for opinions on law? Lawyers. And for opinions on health, you would go to doctors. So we can all agree that some opinions are more valuable that others. And the thing that makes them more valuable is knowledge and experience.

But if there are valuable opinions, then why can’t there be worthless opinions? While it isn’t popular to say so, I believe that opinions by people who do not know the history and facts of a situation are useless and worthless. Not just less valuable than those of experts. I mean worthless. If a person does not know anything about what he/she is giving an opinion on, then there opinion is useless.

Does this mean that I think that only the opinions of experts are useful? No, but I do think that voicing an opinion without first learning the facts about it is pointless. Far too many people simply parrot the sound bytes of politicians and news reporters without ever finding out the facts for themselves.

In this day there is no excuse for that. Nearly all the facts and history about almost anything are online. Anyone can read those facts, if they just put a little effort into finding them. So it’s just not that hard to be informed and knowledgeable about something. And that is all you really need to have a valid and useful opinion rather than a worthless and pointless opinion.
So do your opinions fall into the valuable group, or the worthless group?