In his compelling book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr makes the case that the avalanche of information available to us through multiple media channels 24/7/365 is, in fact, making us dumber.
It seems that setting context, the ability to recognize circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed, gets lost.
In the world today, headlines and intense images all around us scream out and are portrayed as the way things are.
I regularly see this in the classroom, where students will state something as fact because they merely “saw it on” MSNBC, FOX, CNBC, etc. or “heard it” on talk radio.
Illusion and hype make us shallow in how we think and minimize our capacity to critically assess a given situation.
For example, over the weekend, headlines blared that more than 6,000 commercial flights were cancelled due to the big snowstorm back East.
OMG 6,000 flights cancelled!
If hype wasn’t driving the story, we would have learned that over the four days of the storm the U.S. air transport system safely handled more than 110,000 flights.
In other words, “one of the biggest winter storms ever to hit the Eastern seaboard” caused the cancellation of less than 6% of all flights in the U.S.
Now, of course, this headline wouldn’t have grabbed people’s attention and moved them to look at advertisements for the latest innovations in dish soap, anti-depressants, and dog food.
If illusion and hype can be so easily deployed to shock us about boring airline flight schedules, what other things that are truly important in our lives can also get manipulated; if we're not careful?