In an attempt to make sense of developments of our species, we commonly separate certain periods by categorising them under an umbrella term, such as Bronze Age, Middle Ages, Renaissance and so on. It is safe to say that with the rise of computation and the emergence of the internet, we have already entered a new chapter of human history: the Age of Information, or Digital Age. Although it is seemingly advancing very fast, we are still at the very beginning of this age. With it, we will experience very different dynamics to what we know from earlier ages. New challenges and opportunities will alter our behaviour and require us to adapt to the changes that we brought in the first place. One of those challenges is the management of information flows, which has already been evolved into one of the more central aspects of policy-making. Further, the management of information flows is also a determining factor of how societies develop on a non-materialistic level, too. To be specific, the media has become a core political institution and societal motor. Arguably it always has been, but in the course of the globalisation its effects have been greatly amplified, due to increased accessibility. There are many problems that come with this rise of the media. First of all, there is the problem of democratic accountability. Whether media is independent or state-controlled, they decide what information reaches the citizen and with monopolistic behaviour, they indirectly force the citizen to adapt and consume what is wished to consume. Second, there is little clarity to what extent independent media is really independent. It seems unlikely that big news agencies operate completely detached from their respective governments, because the current structure of contemporary political systems simply allows for “backdoor control” of media. Third, the academic fields of sociology and behaviouralism have experienced an outright revolution through the use of big data, which helped these fields to produce more meaningful results that enhanced our understanding of human behaviour. This is actually a very good development, but utilised by media they can more effective target citizens to influence them – just think about internet algorithms. Most problems in relation to the media can be categorised under one of these three aspects. Looking at contemporary societal trends, we can see that media plays a bigger role in exerting political influence (which is an undemocratic practise) and aiming for increased consumption rates. In other words, the media either wants to influence your thoughts or your spending – ideally both. This is not going to change in the future, but with the right techniques you can avoid getting lost in the fast-paced streams of flowing information.
Step 1: (Self-)Awareness
Usually, people who are critical about the media are quickly labelled as conspiracy theorists or dissidents, but often enough people also utilise this critique to simply set themselves apart from what they call “the masses” and are not applying a sound methodology to make a point. This dynamic has created a particularly difficult situation, as you are either for believing the media or against it. Again, there is a binary approach to a complex situation. In order to avoid that awareness is very important. It is important to understand that no media outlet is giving out information “just like that”. Neither is the content, nor the wording, random. Being aware of this undeniable fact helps us to understand how to treat pieces of information. Equally, if not more, important is to understand the one’s own stance on an issue when dealing with related information. For example, if you personally are against abortion, then you should be reflective about this perspective while engaging with news on the topic. If you do not have an outright opinion, then you should explore possible traits that might influence your opinion-building, such as, in this case, degree of religiousness, gender or family situation. Being aware does not mean that you should be overly sceptical of the information or your character, but you should just keep in mind that the information never flows on a level playing field. The media outlets have an agenda and you have hard and soft spots, due to your thoughts. Reminding yourself of this fact acts like a moderating factor that can help you to avoid overthinking, overreacting, linking unrelated ideas and concepts and wrongly interpreting the information.
Step 2: Selective Exposure
Today, we are almost constantly exposed to various sources of information, mainly through the internet. May it be social media applications, such as Facebook, YouTube Instagram, or television programs, the radio or advertisements on the internet, we are almost unable to avoid contact with media actors that what to bring across their pieces of information. Accordingly, it has become more important than ever to reflect on what we personally consider to be worthy sources of information and this does not solely apply to news. The people we follow on social media platforms and also the people that follow us, the content that we engage with (which influences the algorithm and subliminally pushes us into a certain direction), the sources we actively use and also which sources we recite at other places all play a huge role in how well we do in the modern age. Therefore, every person should start working out some principles that allow her to actively exclude certain sources. This makes it easier and more effective to streamline what we consume and engage with the, for us, most important information in depth. For example, a person might have a very clear understanding of what a respectable is and believe, for example, that such a person should focus on literature and art. By adopting such a principle, one can categorically exclude actors/actresses and other public people who promote superficial values like physical beauty, hedonism or luxury. Doing so will significantly reduce our exposure to the confusing noise and allow us to concentrate on what we believe is relevant. This is especially important when we engage with news. It is highly recommendable not to consume news from television, but rather do research on the internet and rely on reputable news agencies here – of course, familiarising oneself with the news outlet’s methodology first. However, we might want to check our principles every now and then, in order to avoid developing a tunnel vision.
Step 3: Timeless Preparation
The first two steps help us to imminently deal with information on a daily basis. However, when we adopt a more long-term approach, it is also important to develop a stronger background that makes future engagement with information easier for us. This means that we need to expand our existing understanding of fundamental conceptual cornerstones. In other words, the more familiar you are with fundamental concepts and important milestones in history and science, the better you are able to make assessments of information that you encounter on a daily basis. But how can we build such an understanding of these concepts? Who decides what fundamental pieces of information are? How can I ensure that these pieces of information are reliable? The answer to these question lays in the power of the timeless pieces of knowledge of past greats. Whether we think about Aristotle, Epictetus, architect Sinan, Anne Frank, Martin Luther King, Marie Curie, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Seneca or Buddha, they have one common characteristic, which is genuine dedication to their craft. The legacies that they, and many other greats, have left us have become so meaningful, because they contain knowledge (actions can carry just as much knowledge as words) that was produced by genuinely and intensively engaging with the matter at hand. While a journalist writes an articles with the purpose to entertain you, influence you or promote a product, our greats gave all their heart to what they did with goals in mind that reach beyond their own lives. Reading those works or familiarising yourself with the deeds of those people will help you get a more solid understanding of many different fields, such as history, society, politics, chemistry, warfare and many more. Over the long-run, you will be better able to distinct truly high-quality information from more superficial information or dishonest utilisation of information. Hence, it can be said that the key for success in the future is, once again, to properly understand the past.