Making information work for us and not against us

Hi Everyone,

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Information is fundamental to everything we do. It shapes our perceptions and our actions. It affects how we approach other people. It affects how we observe the world. It affects how we make decisions. It affects our quality of life. Information makes our life better if we know how to understand and interpret it. We need to be able to distinguish between information that enriches us and information that misleads us; however, it is important to be exposed to both.

In this post, I discuss our exposure to information. I discuss how this exposure changes as we travel through life. I discuss how information affects us and how we can determine which information has a greater impact on our lives.

Controlling of Information

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There is an enormous amount of information in the world. It is only possible for us to be exposed to some of that information. Most of that information we will not fully understand. A lot of that information will be thrust upon us by others (particularly true when we are young). Family, workplace, media, religion and Government play an important role in determining the extent of exposure we have to particular information. Exposure leads to influence; it becomes our experience and hence our reality. Limiting the variety of information we are exposed to, strengthens the influence of the information we receive. Receiving the same or similar information from several sources reinforces the content of the information; thus strengthens its influence.

Receiving information when we are young

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The information we are exposed to when we are young shapes the way we receive and seek information when we are older. Therefore, the information we are exposed to when we are young could have the most impact on our lives and overall happiness. Typically, when we are young we have the least control over the information we receive. Most of the information we receive is controlled by someone else. Our parents expose us to their way of life and thinking. Our teachers expose us to the school syllabus, which is most likely determined by the State and sometimes religious groups. Our devices (computers, phones, televisions etc.) expose us to media and entertainment, which is determined by big businesses (media companies and their sponsors) and sometimes the State. Our religious leaders (youth pastors, religious mentors, etc.) expose us to religious teachings, which have mostly been determined for centuries.

Parents Role


The sources of information that children are exposed to when they are young might not be particularly diverse. The Establishment (Government, Media, Big Business, Banks, and Religious Institutions) plays a huge role in determining this information. The most noticeable exception to this are parents. Therefore, parents may have the most important role in exposing their children to a variety of information at an early age. This strongly depends on the beliefs of the parents and the extent of their faith in our existing systems. Some parents will reinforce the messages presented by existing systems such as school, media, and religion.

Parents determine the religion their children initially follow. They may also influence the schools their children go to (Private, State, or Religious Schools) and some of the media they view. Therefore, parents have some control over the information their children are exposed to even when their children are not with them. This may only be an illusion of choice. Even if we assume parents are open-minded, their ability to make decisions regarding their children could be stunted by limited options. In terms of education, parents might only have the choice of secular education or education with religious influence. It is likely that both types of schools have very similar syllabi as they are likely to assess their children using the same or very similar examinations. The key differences are likely to relate to whether parents want their children to have education influenced by “liberal” or “conservative” values. This feeds into both political divide and conquer, and the two-party political systems.

Many parents work long hours and many children are more exposed to schools, churches, and the media. The amount of time parents spend with their children might be insufficient to open their children’s minds to different ways of thinking and alternative information. Some parents are able to home school their children. This is good if parents are open-minded and they teach their children how to expand their own knowledge while enabling them to self-educate. However, home schooling could be bad, if parents have the intention of forcing their own doctrine and dogma on their children.

Children with Children


Typically, children spend a considerable amount of time with other children. Therefore, children influence each other. The type of influence varies depending on how they spend their time together (socialising or studying). When children socialise, media and entertainment plays an important role. Conversations and play may revolve television programs, movies, video games, or social media (People share their own observations of chlidren's conversation on Reddit). This may open or close their minds to particular ways of thinking. Studying together is intended to motivate learning and comprehension of content. This could open children’s minds to new information, ideas, and opinions or it could solidify rigid ways of thinking. Children spending time together could have both positive and negative effects on their perceptions regarding the information they receive. The extent could depend on the prevailing peer pressure exerted by the group.

Receiving information when we are adults

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As we get older, we gain more control over the information we receive. The extent we gain control will depend on the culture we are brought up in. Some strict cultures maintain a firm grip over what information people can read, listen to, or watch. Other cultures offer close to unlimited freedom to explore and discover different information from any source a person wishes to pursue.

Self Imposed Restrictions


In most western countries, people are generally allowed to access information freely. However, many people impose restrictions on themselves by limiting themselves to information that is easily available to them or information they are directed towards. The restrictions on information that people faced when they were young influences their perceptions towards information when they are older. They have formed a belief system that they are reluctant or struggle to challenge.

Some people believe they are challenging the system and embracing new ideas and ideology. However, they are supporting ideas and ideology born within their existing paradigm. This is very common in universities when young people are manipulated to support causes that strengthens the Establishments control over society.

The Workplace


The workplace forms an additional source of information for people. Information flows from the workplace itself as well as from colleagues. The workplace often aligns itself with Government and media messaging (this is most relevant to large businesses and Government employment). They approach matters with the assumption that the media are the voice of the people. Workplace problems are blamed on discrimination and abuse. Many workplaces respond by hiring or promoting employees based on quotas relating to race, sex, sexuality, or gender identification to create the perception of undiscriminatory employment. Sometimes, these quotas are incentivised by Governments (Littler). In reality, such quotas have the opposite effect.

Many workplaces are moving towards political correctness. It is claimed to reduce potentially offensive language. This could be used to target any form of speech and words deemed offensive. In reality, it is used to reduce freedom of speech and control information. Many employees aim to please their employers by supporting their initiatives. They do so by following them closely, promoting them to their colleagues, and even reporting their colleagues if they are not open to these initiatives. The workplace encourages this behaviour as it strengthens their position.

Censorship


The internet presents us with the opportunity to explore almost endless amounts of information from almost any source. Governments have attempted to restrict access to sources of information that contradict the information spread by the Establishment. They have been able to do this more successfully in countries that have traditional authoritarian type regimes.

In ‘democratic” countries this been more difficult. Outright banning and direct censorship are contrary to the democratic values that they preach. Therefore, they have used Big Business to intervene more indirectly. Major social media companies (e.g. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter) block content they consider as disinformation or harmful (i.e. contrary to mainstream narrative). They shadow ban (i.e. greatly remove visibility of content beyond a person’s closest network) content that is more difficult to label as violating their terms of use but still consider as undesirable. This enables them to censor people without them knowing or without them being able to prove they are being censored. Tech companies that run internet search engines (e.g. Google and Microsoft) use their search algorithms to promote content that aligns with Establishment ideas and sometimes controlled opposition ideas while attempting to bury alternative content that opposes mainstream narratives

In recent years, “democratic” countries have pursued a more aggressive approach to alternative information. Most Government’s responses to Covid-19 were egregious. The damage they caused is proving to far outweigh any damage caused by Covid-19 directly (see, example of Covid-19 vaccines and other responses). This has become so apparent that Big Business cannot adequately hold back information criticising or opposing it. Therefore, Government have started to attack alternative information directly by enforcing restrictions on information on the internet and even preventing in-person gatherings (e.g. bans on social gatherings, protests, and on people who have not taken a Covid-19 vaccine).

Governments took this a step further with the Russia-Ukraine war by banning Russian media such as RT and Sputnik and forcing social media to ban certain content relating to the war (e.g. anything that depicts Russia positively or Ukraine negatively). These bans have been repeatedly supported by mainstream media as a required restriction on dangerous propaganda. In reality, most western mainstream media is almost entirely devoted to spreading propaganda.

Improving our inflow of information

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Information can be used to build knowledge, which can be used to acquire wisdom, which can be used to create happiness. This can be done if we are able to freely pursue information and are able to interpret and analysis that information for our own benefit. However, the amount of information in the world is incredible vast and we are often directed towards particular sources of information. We need to have a system or a plan on how to approach information. I would argue that there are three key areas we need to explore. They are ourselves, the people around us, and our broader environment. In context of utilising freedom, I discussed all three in my post Freedom as a Path to Happiness.

Ourselves


A good place to begin is with ourselves. We are responsible for interpreting information. How we interpret that information depends on our perceptions. Our perceptions are influenced by everything and everyone we encounter. Some influences are considerably stronger than others. We need to understand these influences and how they may have affected us. They could be family, friends, teachers, politicians, work colleagues, or even people in the media. This process should initially involve mostly introspection as we are attempting to understand our own experiences. This process should continue as we explore more of the world around us.

People around us


Next we should consider understanding the people around us. They shaped our past, they are shaping our present, and will shape our future. We could begin by trying to understanding our closest contacts.

  • How differently do they think from us and in what way?
  • Why do they think differently?
  • What have they been exposed to that would alter their thought process?
  • How is their thought process different from ours?

For people we know well, we should be able to mostly answer the first two questions and have some idea regarding the second two. If we struggle to answer these questions, we may not understand them as well as we should. It might be a good idea to make an effort to understand them better. This will help build empathy (for you and them) as well as help us understand more about ourselves from the influence they may have on us.

Broader Environment


Once we have improved our understanding of ourselves and those closest to ourselves, we are in a better position to understand the world around us. We have a good idea of what motivates us. We have a good idea of how and why we think the way we do. We have a good idea of our own bias and vulnerabilities. We have a good idea of how different people think differently and reach different conclusions. What we know about ourselves and those around us, can help us explore our broader environment.

Next, we need to be as open as possible to the information we encounter; neither accepting nor dismissing but questioning. Over time, we will find sources of information that we consider more trustworthy but we should still be open to the possibility that it could be inaccurate. Likewise, accurate information could come from a normally inaccurate source; therefore, training ourselves to be able question and analyse information is important. There are often indications that information is inaccurate. We can look for inconsistencies, lack of supporting evidence, vague sources, links to previous false information, arrogance in presentation, unwillingness to debate, the use of emotion, the use of distractions, and pattern of alignment with agendas. If several of the above are identified, we should raise more questions and pursue alternative sources of information.

Simple approach to information


To summarise the above. We should begin with the information closest and most relevant to ourselves. This begins with the information that has already shaped our lives as well as the information we share and receive from the people closest to us.

Information we share and receive from people we have regular contact with is highly relevant because it has the potential to shape our perceptions in the future.

Information from and relating to people with authority (hence, influence over our lives) is important to understand and interpret. It is important to explore a wide range of sources for information about these people and their actions as we do not have direct contact with them; therefore, we rely on secondary sources (e.g. media).

We should also pursue information relating to our own personal interests. This becomes easier once we have a better understand of the information we have or are currently experiencing. We can then expand our pursuit of information outwards from here.

Figure 1: Acquiring information at different levels.

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Figure 1 contains a simply diagram of how we could approach information based on what is closest to us. The diagram includes arrows to show that the different levels feed into each other. For example, we could learn something about world events that have been influencing our lives and perceptions without us fully understanding how or why.

Conclusion

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The world can be very confusing. Information can be difficult to interpret and understand. We need to contend with our biases and understand how they affect the way see the world and what is presented in it. Most of us start from a position of disadvantage as the information that we are mostly exposed to when we are young is controlled and often limited. This may taint our perceptions and hinder our ability to seek and interpret information later in life.

Even as adults, when the potential to access a variety of information is enormous, we often find ourselves pushed in particular directions. This can be from our friends, family, work colleagues, employees, mainstream media, social media, Government, entertainment, and religious organisations. Sometimes this may lead to us being manipulated by false and/or inaccurate information; we need to identify it. Exposure to various types of information from various sources enables us to obtain a broader perspective. Even information that is false, inaccurate, or intended to deceive has some value. Once identified, it forms part of a benchmark that other information can be compared against when determining how we should apply it to our lives.


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If you want to read any of my other posts, you can click on the links below. These links will lead you to posts containing my collection of works. These 'Collection of Works' posts have been updated to contain links to the Hive versions of my posts.

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