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Monday, March 14, 2011

a new narrative

From James Fallows' Learning to Love the (Shallow, Divisive, Unreliable) New Media in The Atlantic this month:
“But what if the answer to a false narrative isn’t fact?,” Denton says. “Or Habermas? Maybe the answer to a flawed narrative is a different narrative. You change the story.” Which is what, he said, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have done. They don’t “fact-check” Fox News, or try to rebut it directly, or fight on its own terms. They change the story not by distorting reality—their strength is their reliance on fact—or creating a fictitious narrative, but by presenting the facts in a way that makes them register in a way they hadn’t before.

Jaron Lanier, author of Digital Maoism, was blunt when I asked him about Fox’s ability to assert a “truth” and have it echo through digital media. “We have created a technology that has wonderful potential, but that enormously increases our ability to lie to ourselves and forget it is a lie,” he told me. “We are going to need to develop new conventions and formalities to cut through the lies.” Stewart and Colbert have developed one such set of new conventions; others will emerge.

The new media is terrible for addressing problems like confirmation bias but it's a new type of narrativity and the old type had its own weaknesses. I'm optimistic about the possibilities for people who really want to know what's going on and are willing to put in the time but pessimistic about the content the average person will digest. Then again, no-news seems as attractive as confirmation biased news and that's not so unsettling.

1 comment:

Carl said...

I've been thinking about confirmation bias in relation to media coverage of Japan's nuclear disaster. On the one hand, the coverage is naturally overblown, since even if things go completely worst case, the number of people who lose their lives will be dwarfed by the quake/tsunami. On the other hand, I find the "everything is fine; the media is dumb; they don't know about SCIENCE" posts off putting as well, since they seem overly sanguine about the possibility of a worst case scenario and don't take into account the fact that a) not everything always goes according to plan and b) the government/industry is almost certainly lying to us about the nature of the incident, because that's what people in authority *do* in this sort of situation. (In old Japan, a doctor wouldn't tell you if you had a terminal illness, because why worry your pretty little head about that in your final hours?)

Anyway, I don't know if there's a way to read the reports about the reactor without falling prey to confirmation bias from one side or the other. :-/