Cognitive Diversity

I recently heard an interview with Ethan Zuckerman, author of Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the age of Connection on Bob Kall’s Bottom Up Radio Show. One of the topics discussed was how the internet isn’t currently being used to its full potential because of common homophilic behavior patterns (ie. tendency to associate with or seek information from those with similar beliefs, values, academic background, etc). This often occurs in situations where diverse groups of strangers are forced together such as schools, workplaces, prisons, etc. When it happens within online social networks it can have the unfortunate effect of limiting the scope of one’s interests, worldview, and creativity. An alternative model brought up was the xenophile, one who is interested in other types of people and cultures and finds value in the ideas and perspectives they offer.

A related problem can be seen in the context of news media. News in America (and elsewhere) is often criticized as being too conservative, too liberal, too timid, dumb and/or sensationalistic. All of those descriptions may apply at different times, but the trend that concerns me most is the increasing corporate ownership of and influence on newsrooms. In my view, corporate news is usually moderate liberal/conservative on social issues, neoconservative on foreign policy, and neoliberal on economic issues while always conveying a sycophantic reverence for authority. Healthy societies, especially potential democracies, require an informed citizenry and cognitive diversity. Perhaps it’s natural for people to be informed by sources that they feel they can relate to and feel comfortable with, but when such sources:

  • are influenced by management and investors, corporate/government sponsors, advisors and sources, internalized corporate values etc.
  • either shows hostility towards or ignores other points of views
  • offers other points of views that are actually weak “straw man” arguments or marginally more liberal or conservative versions of the same perspective
  • chooses to self-censor or water down content out of fear and/or greed
  • repeats the government/corporate line without question or verification

we get the corporate news media we have today. Corporate-stream news does serve useful functions such as an outlet to hear directly from officials (whether the information is truthful or what they’d like to convince us to believe or think they believe is another story). Rather than viewing corporate news as real news much less the best source of news, it would be healthier and more accurate to treat it as a narrow component of one’s info-diet. Like sugars and processed foods it’s okay to indulge in on occasion if in moderation and with full awareness of potential harmful side-effects, but make sure to feed your mind healthier and more nutritious content such as non-corporate owned government and non-government news from other countries, alternative and independent investigative reporting through websites, podcasts, webcasts, RSS feeds, social media, listener supported radio and public access or non-commercial television news. All news sources have their own biases and perspectives, but the more diverse and unbeholden to corporate interests they are, the more useful the information they provide in terms of thinking critically and gaining a more accurate perception and understanding of the world. This is why I often go to certain blogs for independent citizen reporting and news gathering, especially on controversial issues, and it’s one of the motivating factors for creating my own.

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