“Fake news” from 1894. Illustration: Frederick Opper. Source: Wikipedia.
We used to call television “the boob tube.” The expectation was that too much foolish programming was hurting our power to think rationally. And after watching reruns of old “soap operas,” you might think so. Those shows were awful!
Now folks claim that news for the mind is like sugar for the body. We need a little to survive, but a steady diet of sound-bytes and Facebook feeds makes us overweight and unable to appreciate substantial fare. Short clips mislead, waste time, make us passive, and kill creativity, according to these studies. Online news caters to our appetite for flashy, sensational stories.
This argument resurfaces every time new technology appears. TV kills imagination; cars are the death of community; typewriters change composition; telephones supplant letters. Plato famously criticized writing itself, noting that written arguments cannot be defended in person. It’s not just the economic argument that productivity destroys jobs. These arguments assert that our brains are reprogrammed by intellectual technology.
Thomas Jefferson once resolved to give up newspapers in exchange for classical literature, but there’s no indication that he actually did. He remained a news-hound to the end; it didn’t make him stupid. It’s incumbent on each of us to cultivate our minds. After all, we live in a knowledge-based economy.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
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