I’m not going to focus on any specific story in this article (even though that’s going to be really hard to do). This is broader than any one story. It covers practically every important matter you can think of. And it’s a big problem. I think it’s actually the #1 problem in our society — the largest fault causing threat to the future of humanity.
If I wasn’t in the news business, I don’t know how much I’d notice it. Sure, I’m certain I’d be aware of the problem in US politics. But I don’t think I’d realize that it’s much more widespread than that, and that it can be a devastatingly big mistake to any group of people (depending on the topic).
I’ve seen lack of context come in and misinform people on every topic under the sun. It is the #1 cause of of misinformation in my opinion. As far as I’ve seen, it has steered much of the population, perhaps 70–90% of the population, into a worldview that is so warped and disconnected from reality that we may as well all be living in a fantastical movie or alternative universe.
The problem is that on practically any topic that is important to society as a whole and is just somewhat complicated, many people lack so much context on the issue that their opinion of it is counterproductively warped.
On many topics — from politics to math to science to psychology — a good teacher can teach you something that is true but makes you come to a broader conclusion that is completely false. In the next lesson, they can reveal your mistaken assumptions and teach you more context. And then that process can go on for quite a few lessons on many topics, each one revealing more context and nuance.
In politics, what I routinely see on one side is that a simple messaging campaign and a media bubble have provided people with lesson 1 on a topic, or perhaps lessons 1 and 2 on a topic, but then not several subsequent lessons that correct for dramatically false assumptions and conclusions that the first lesson or two implied. It’s a big freakin’ problem, and it is disturbing when you look at where it has been leading our society.
I’ve said it many times — democracy is built on two fundamental pillars: widespread access to information (correct information) and engagement. Engagement in the US is horrendous. Full context on almost any topic is horrendous. So, it cannot be too surprising that we have one of the most failed businessmen in the history of the United States, one of the most corrupt modern businessmen, a serial con man running the country. You can’t get to such an absurd point if accurate and complete information is widespread, and that’s just the first pillar.
This problem isn’t limited to politics, of course. On the topic of Tesla, for years, people who have been paid to cover a wide swath of tech topics, business topics, or auto topics covered Tesla with only a limited understanding of the company. We spent years diving deeper and deeper into the company — because we are CleanTechnica — and ended up on the right side of history while others took a few talking points from loudmouths with a stake in the game and destroyed their reputations. Unfortunately, that soiled their outlets regarding topics covered in much more depth and accuracy. (Pro tip: get a true freakin’ cleantech reporter if you want to cover cleantech well. Don’t ruin your reputation by putting an old-school gearhead or business reporter on transformative cleantech topics.)
I’m not going to lie — I’m pessimistic about the future of the United States. We are living with stage 5 information cancer. We have malignant social tumors that have fully or almost fully taken over critical organs of our body politic. We have a severe case of amnesia that causes the public to keep voting for the policies and people that created American crises, and keep voting out the people who pulled us out of economic crisis after economic crisis. Our critical thinking skills are infected with a debilitating virus. The time we spend digging beneath the social media propaganda and political bumper stickers in order to closely examine policy and science is approximately the same as we spend asking our great-grandparents what their top life lessons were.
How does society get beyond cancerous information bubbles that leave out 50–90% of the context of a story? With tweet threads? With Facebook memes? With flame wars on reddit? With a nonstop rush to consume everything while digesting nothing of nutritional value?
We make mistakes here on CleanTechnica. We forget or leave out important context from time to time — certainly more than we should. But we try to put things in the proper frame, with adequate nuance, and without misleading people. If you appreciate what we do in the cleantech space, and you appreciate having a place you can turn to for reliable and regular news and analysis on solar energy, electric vehicles, wind energy, energy storage, and energy efficiency, once the political campaign season is over, the broad team and I would appreciate it if you would become a paying member in order to support our continued efforts.
For now, please do what you can in the last couple of days to give money to the politicians who respect and act on details, who look at the full context of important topics, who appreciate nuance, who respect science, and who do not kidnap kids and nursing babies from their parents in order to tell other refugees to not seek refuge in the United States of America.
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