What do you do when there are too many conflicting headlines all around you and too much information to absorb?
It is incredible that at this time in human history we have almost every piece of information on the planet at our fingertips and yet it seems most of us are more uninformed than ever. The speed at which we share misinformation is dwarfs the speed at which we pursue correct information.
As an op ed writer I’m constantly mentally logging stories, anecdotes and conversations with the non-pundit class. Internet interactions can make it seem like we’re surrounded by myopic, raging political wonks but most Americans live a life very much outside that bubble. When I’m talking to friends and neighbors about how they see the Robert Mueller investigation most indicate they want to care about it, and feel like they should care about it but can’t really make heads or tales out of the conflicting headlines, rotating cast and constant stream of information that keeps being reported, retracted, reported and retracted again.
They’re uncomfortable with Trump’s “problematic” tweeting but they’ve seen the promise of every “this is finally the end for Trump!” story disintegrate into ash and hashtags. They don’t know what to believe, what’s edited to look unflattering rather than reveal the whole story, or who’s version of events on what channel is the real one.
Furthermore, the current level of outrage is unsustainable for most regular Americans. Should they be mad at the way President Trump talks about his political opponents? Maybe, but the real question is…can they? The average American simply does not have space in their lives for the nonstop river of rage the media is feeding them these days. At some point, frustration sets in. After that comes ennui. After that comes the candidates you never saw coming because they’ve figured out how to speak to frustrations disguised as boredom.
I have many friends across the entire political spectrum. A look at my Facebook feed on any given day tells me that most people just aren’t able or willing to read below the headlines. We’re all guilty of it…but what do we do about it?
My readers may be surprised to discover that even in my line of work there are stories and issues that I just can’t care about – not because I’m uncaring but because I don’t have the mental capacity to work out all the opposing views and accusations flying around about said issues. If you’re like me, you would love to be able to know all the details and nuances of a given controversial issue but you have neither the time nor the sanity to read every op ed and watch every talking head. You may even feel a little guilty about it. There might be people around you who accuse you of not caring or being ignorant if you don’t have your head in the news and social media all day.
What’s the answer? How can we stay informed without losing our sanity? How do we know what’s true in the world without having to dedicate eight hours of every day to meticulously studying the news cycle?
As election season ramps up there will be no shortage of information – good and bad – being thrown at you. You don’t have to be the person who absorbs it all, even if you wish you could be. The way to know what is true is to turn off the devices and go outside. Look around at your own life. Is your personal situation better or worse these days? Do you see your neighbors and coworkers of different races fighting and bickering and treating each other poorly? Do you see people working together at your church or local community organization? Do you see people around you (personally, in your own life and your own location) beating each other and threatening each other over politics?
Whatever it is that you see around you in real time is often a vague reflection of what is happening the political life of this nation. If you’re looking at headlines and feeling torn about what to believe, look around your personal circumstances and ask yourself how what you see with your own eyes squares up against what you’re reading.
It’s not a foolproof method. Obviously some of us live in places that might be considered a “bubble” of sorts – like if you’re a wealthy celebrity or a resident of a major coastal city. But I believe that even those people – if they can manage to put down social media and truly engage with their surroundings – will see a far clearer picture of America when they look at the people in their proximity with their own eyes instead of through a glass screen.
As much as my livelihood depends on your clicks, don’t live your experiences through a touchscreen or a computer mouse. The internet has created many useful connections but it has also created an overwhelming flood of information. What started out as a quenching of a thirst for knowledge has grown into a roaring, angry river that has overflowed its banks and now threatens to drown us all.
As election season moves forward, give yourself permission to not care about every single outrageous headline moving forward. Take your political cues from your real-life. At this point, most of the rest is just noise anyway.