Neil Postman has pointed out that when the flow of information in a society has become a flood, information filters become increasingly important. We need mechanisms to distinguish good information from bad, useful from worthless. Postman’s prescience amazes me, because he wrote Technopoly before the advent of the Internet—before the flood became a worldwide inundation that extends 15 cubits above the mountaintops. We’re drowning in information, and we’re inhaling good, bad, useful, and worthless in huge gulps.
Science is a generally trusted information filter, but it actually gave a big boost to credulity by giving us the Net, the international credulity club. Has your inbox, like mine, been filled with these bits of Internet detritus?
- Forward this e-mail and Microsoft will send you an iPad.
- Forward this e-mail and little Johnny won’t die.
- Forward this e-mail and President Obama was really born in the Kremlin, which is really in Saudi Arabia, which is really a hologram.
Snopes.com is one of the major trusted information filters out there for urban legends like these. As soon as they land in your inbox (which must mean that some people really do believe them) and beckon you to click “Forward,” you can go to Snopes to check out their validity. An interesting, must-read New York Times article quotes Snopes’ owners, who are quite perceptive about the failure of our public information filters:
“Especially in politics, most everything has infinite shades of gray to it, but people just want things to be true or false…. In the larger sense, it’s people wanting confirmation of their world view.”
Snopes nailed it. Our information filters fail us not because the facts aren’t there to be found, but because people have higher commitments. They have presuppositions. Their affections are pointing them toward some answers and not others. They want their teams to win at all costs, even if truth is the down payment. Or perhaps we could put it like Paul did: they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
Another perceptive quotation in the Times article came from Brooks Jackson of FactCheck.org, a site similar to Snopes.com:
“The ‘news’ that is not fit to print gets through to people anyway these days, through 24-hour cable gasbags, partisan talk radio hosts and chain e-mails, blogs and Web sites such as WorldNetDaily or Daily Kos…. What readers need now, we find, are honest referees who can help ordinary readers sort out fact from fiction.”
But how do we know who’s “honest”? Some people think WorldNetDaily is an honest referee, and that its negative mention in the New York Times is only further evidence of the Gray Lady’s complicity in an international conspiracy against the truly true facts.
How can we get out of this mess? Where are the reliable information filters? We won’t find them until we all acknowledge that every one of us trusts certain authorities and not others.
Me? I believe in the inspiration of the Bible, both the Old and the New Testaments. I have an authority which is utterly trustworthy, because it comes from the only Person in the Universe with a truly objective view.
As for any other authorities, I’m not so sure. I did some research on the Internet, and I found out that Snopes.com is bankrolled by Saudi Arabian iPad sales.