INFORMATION ASSESSMENT and INFORMATION MONOPOLIES
A common complaint is that there is too much information. Circling your life, online, off-line, floating like a cloud over your head, and it is threatening to rain. It is one thing to get wet, it is another to have your mind scorched by the acid rain of half-truths and lies.
‘Information’ means many things. It is a ratbag drop for all kinds of raw data, facts, theories, beliefs, customs, documents, places, buildings, rants, emotional baggage, rumors, gossips, and opinions. The sure volume squeezes us, flattens us as we seek to move through the day. We spoon information into our brains from a hundred different dishes. How do we digest that kind of intellectual meal?
We hardly have time to consume what we stumble across so how can we be sure of the accuracy of it? What percentage of this information is seriously distorted, twisted or massaged? Do we even begin to know? The digital age should have made accuracy an important priority. With so much ‘information’ streaming through our heads daily, we need some way to step back and ask the question: Is this true? Is it accurate? How can we check the information?
The reality is that the more information that floods into our brains the less we seem to care how accurate it is. If it ‘feels’ right or confirms our worldview, it is information-tagged for storage. At that point, it is lodged in our brain as ‘fact’ and ‘true’. It is hard to get people to reverse an error or mistake; they lose face, they become confused, they become angry and dig in.
That’s the world I live in. What about your world?
Snopes — is said to bring seven million to eight million unique visitors in an average month — and these visitors are seeking to fact check for accuracy some piece of information that raises doubts.
According to the New York Times report on Snopes, those running Snopes have “concluded that people are rather cavalier about the facts.”
“In a given week, Snopes tries to set the record straight on everything from political smears to old wives’ tales. No, Kenya did not erect a sign welcoming people to the “birthplace of Barack Obama.” No, Wal-Mart did not authorize illegal immigration raids at its stores. No, the Olive Garden restaurant chain did not hand out $500 gift cards to online fans.”
In the world of crime fiction, accuracy is essential. Whether describing a city, using words in a local language, employing historical references, or engaging in a gunfight, the reader demands that the author has given a factually accurate account even though the book is fiction. This seems to be a contradiction—fiction must be held to a standard as high or higher than non-fiction. There is no quicker way to lose a reader’s ability to suspend disbelief than to have the hero taking a subway cross down when no such transportation system exist. Unless the set up is science fiction, the law of physics also apply—cars can’t turn corners at 100 kilometers an hour; when someone is slugged in the face, blood and teeth fly and they are likely on their ass.
I’m working on the 3rd draft of 9 Gold Bullets, the 12th novel in the Calvino series. Half of the book is located in New York and the other half in Bangkok. I am still cross checking ‘facts’ about locations, guns, yachts, coins, and cultural artifacts I’ve unearthed from the 1980s. I work hard at each stage of the drafts to double check the facts, asking myself is this true? Someone who reads this book with know the East Village in Manhattan will read scenes set along St. Marks’ Place and will make a judgment as to whether I got it right. It is important to me that I pass through that shadow of doubt and come out the other end where the light of creditability shines bright. If I had instead, had called it, St. Marks’ Street—they would have had every right to throw the book out the window.
One more thing about information—government has had a good monopoly on information and they go down fighting to cling to this vested ancient right. The digital age is giving governments a run for their money; the old secrecy is breaking down. People are finding out the stuff governments wish to hide, the stuff that makes them look like fools, crooks, and morons. A shot over the bow of the naturally censoring governments is wikileaks.
“Wikileaks is a Sweden- or Iceland-based organization that publishes anonymous submissions and leaks of sensitive documents from governments and other organizations, while preserving the anonymity of its sources. Its website, launched in 2006, is run by The Sunshine Press. The organization was founded by Chinese dissidents, as well as journalists, mathematicians, and start-up company technologists from the U.S., Taiwan, Europe, Australia, and South Africa. Newspaper articles describe Julian Assange, an Australian journalist and Internet activist, as its director. Within a year of its launch, the site said its database had grown to more than 1.2 million documents. It has won a number of new media awards for its reports.”
Self-serving governments, which blunder and bully and threaten in the name of representation always ready to censor a dissent and bury their crimes are being challenged around the world.
The new digital world may ultimately make governments more open and responsive. This is a long-term vision and like most visions will only be realized after a thousand small steps, blood in the streets, and dismantling of the official lies and disinformation that have long been accepted an ordinary part of the non-digital world.