Archive for the ‘Thinking aloud’ Category

OK. Generally, I think that things such as the internet are bloody brilliant.  I can find out all about things that I didn’t know about 20 seconds ago.  Through Wikipedia, blogging platforms, support groups.  There are thousands of things that I might never have heard of without the internet.  It seems like you could become an instant expert in almost everything (although I doubt googling ‘how to ride a bike’ will be that useful in the long run).  You can find an answer to almost any question you can think of.

The problem is, nobody does.  Nobody actually sits down and trawls through the internet for a balanced view, a sensible answer.  We want to find the answer to one question and we search until we find the answer that we want or even one that we fear.

Instead, we rely on the media.  Newspapers and TV etc. provide us with the soundbites we want; the brief insight into something more profound or interesting.  After that, we just don’t care.  We feel like we know all about it.  We can talk confidently about something without feeling like there’s anything missing.  And yes, this can be a useful shortcut.  However, I have a sneaky feeling that the people that write those articles are just like us.  They look through piles of information that confirm what they already know to be true.  But what’s worse, it has to be something they already know to be true AND sell papers or advertising or whatever.  So not only is it under researched, it’s also likely to be more extreme because that sells.

There’s lots of qualities that make something likely to be talked about, how disgusting it is is one of them.  For example, there’s some cool research (in my opinion) that looked into urban legends that found the most disgusting versions of a particular story were more likely to be passed on or remembered.  Urban legends aren’t that important (apart from putting people off ever eating fast food again) but other things are and if all the information we receive is badly biased, what then?

This line of thinking comes from the fact I’ve recently started reading Backlash by Susan Faludi (yeah yeah slow on the uptake, but I was 4 when it was published so sssh!).  I was expecting it to be interesting but still probably a bit out of date.  To my surprise, I found that in the first chapter she address a common misconception about female infertility that had recently been discussed (as fact) among my friends and I.  I had been *reliably* informed by them that women should have babies before they’re thirty because of the health and fertility implications for both mother and baby.

When I read about the dodgey research that had resulted in this ‘common knowledge’, I have to admit I was pleased.  The conversation with my friends had been very frustrating to say the least.  They seemed to be saying that although they loved me and my choices (although to me, I have to say, they haven’t really been choices…), I was making an irrevocable mistake for not planning to have children before I was thirty. However, I soon began thinking:

“Well, if that research was wrong.  Why should I trust this other person?  What makes her research any more likely to be true?  Just because I agree with it?”  Also I began to think that if people relied on people they actually knew, maybe we’d make less wild assumptions that people know what their talking about.  Then again, maybe you’d generalise and make it worse. So now I’m off to do detailed, up to date research, about fertility of women in their thirties, despite the fact that I really don’t particularly care much about the topic, just to find out more about what I think about information and research practices.  I’m contrary like that.

If anyone has some recommended reading or thoughts on this subject please tell me.  Especially if you disagree with me.  I might learn something 😀