The greatest danger

There is a lot to be anxious about these days, obviously. Dangers and fears are around every corner and they are especially obvious when reading news headlines. I won’t even mention TV “news” shows and various talking heads spouting their own partisan viewpoints. I am thankful, personally, to not have TV so that I can more easily avoid the constantly blaring of sales pitches (commercials) and images of dressed up people with overly white teeth, fake tans, and smooth talking demeanors.

Many believe the greatest issue of our time is climate change. Others say it is immigration and migration. A good case can be made for political and social polarization, or rampant racism, or gun violence, or drug use, or economic hardship, or that old standby, war. You name it, there is a reason or cause for anxiety.

I’m beginning to think or realize, however, that none of these is anywhere near as important and insidious as the misuse of information. To the extent each of us ingests daily information to guide us in our life paths, we are incredibly dependent on knowing things, hearing or reading about things, and creating and sharing knowledge. We heavily depend on receiving and processing information that is reliable, helpful, good, trustworthy.

We are witnessing rampant misuse of information in key areas today, although the misuse of information is nothing new. It’s as old as time. The scale and reach of today’s information mess, however, seem to me much greater and more dangerous than ever before. Witness what happens with social media, for example.

In libraries, we have a long tradition of something called “information literacy.” The idea is to help others be better, more informed and skilled consumers of information, to build up evaluative techniques that help people to properly assess and use information. It seems like this tradition is more needed than ever before, and in a much more widespread manner than just helping college freshmen write a good persuasive essay.

As daunting and difficult as it may sound, I think it is increasingly important that at some level, we critically assess and evaluate the flows of information that we process on a daily basis, many of them without much thought. Why is someone saying x? What motivates another person to write y statement?

I’m only just beginning to flesh out the implications and details of this idea or assertion, and I realize that someone reading this post may think I’m a little bit crazy, or at the very least, paranoid. However, I stick to my point: it’s the misuse of information that we need to be concerned with the most in today’s society.

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