Monday, 9 January 2012

Information disinformation ...

Something said by a friend recently about the "Connected Generation" (Generation Z in education/social classifications) having an attention span of no more than 140 characters in reading length, got me thinking. A little digging around how some of the great myths of the late 20th early 21st Century have spread and become the new "truths" suggests that it is down to the use (or abuse) of modern electronic media to a large degree and to the lack of desire to check facts among a large part of the receiving population on the other.

The "tl;dr" (Too long; didn't read - for those not used to "txt spk") response kicks in as soon as someone does want to check facts and discovers that the reality is a lot more complex than the 'abridged' version they found on Twitter, FaceBook or one of the many newspaper feeds. The "big" story in the news here in Germany is the Bundes President's private financial arrangements. Listening to the various self-righteous politicians, media spokesmen and others you would think that having taken out a private loan from a friend to buy a house was a hanging offence. Yes, he shouldn't have gone that route, but there seems to have been 'lost' in the reporting of it, the fact that he needed a quick decision and the bank was dragging its feet. OK, there are other questions, such as holidays with friends and some arguments with various Media heads which also emerged, but again, we seem to hear only the self-righteous versions from those now squealing about how they were "abused" in this. There is always a great deal of filtering in any reportage in the Media, but when you add in the "secret" agenda of the reporter and the bias of the agency he/she works for, you get a very selective presentation of the facts.

Freedom of the information supply via the media is a vital part of any democracy, but so is accuracy of reporting and that flows across to all other information streams. Vast amounts of "disinformation" and blatant untruth is now swirling around the internet. Very few of those reading it on a daily basis actually check the veracity of it. I'm glad to say that The Postulant is one who regularly uses Snopes (and I have to thank her for pointing me at it) to verify material she gets forwarded to her. I wish others were as careful.

Sadly the disinformation-information becomes the new truth is also affecting academic circles. I have recently read several books which identify the origins of some of the anti-religion propaganda as 19th Century sources. When these are examined, they turn out to be "spin" - quite a bit of it refuted at the time, but which, because it is quoted by Bertrand Russel, Aldous Huxley or some other "thinker" of the 20th Century is now "fact" - yet a lot of this is pure invention. One particular example that annoys me is the statement that "the church" taught that the world was flat. This turns out to be based on a statement made by a "scientist" from the early 19th Century who based his assumption on his interpretation of the Mappa Mundi. The "Mappa" - a popular 14th -15th Century representation of the "Spiritual" connections of the places of pilgrimage and special holiness, was based on the known lands of the people making the map and placed Jerusalem at its centre - for the obvious reason that it is the heart of Christianity. Officially the church has always followed the Ptolemaic and Aristotelian understanding of the world as a sphere - the question for Europe was always what lay over the ocean in terms of lands and peoples. Columbus' journey ad route were chosen because his talking to fishermen who regularly ventured beyond the horizon, suggested that it might lead to the "East" from which Europe was cut off by the Muslim Empires in Turkey and Persia.

John Cabot set out from Bristol in the "Mathew" (A replica of his ship is to be seen and visited in the port there) armed with maps and information from the fishermen who regularly fished the Grand Banks and sometimes over wintered in Nova Scotia and the American East Coast. But all of this is swept aside by the repetition of the late Victorian anti-church factions who invented the flat earth story to promote their own "superior" reasoning.

Sadly the modern media and the speed of "information" transfer simply aids these and other myths in their spread and acceptance as "truth" by those to gullible or to ignorant to seek further and check.

Ah well, this post has already reached far beyond the limits of tl;dr ...

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