Information Anxiety

Corpsey

call me big papa
Firstly, an apology: this post will, almost by necessity, be unfocused and meandering.

I've lately become anxious over the extent of my own ignorance. Only a few years ago, I would quite happily have accepted that I knew next to nothing about politics, history, science, etc. I mainly knew about rap music and The Simpsons. I think I was happier then.

Now, I feel like I have some sort of responsibility, to both society and myself, to be well informed. The trouble is, I don't have nearly enough time in the day to be nearly well-informed enough. Also, I feel like everything I read might well be revealed, by some other article or book I've not read and don't have time to read, to be bollocks, except that when I read it I am inclined (and, given aforementioned time restrictions, almost obliged) to believe it to be correct.

Is this an anxiety that others on here experience? Perhaps the sheer tumult of information and competing opinion that the internet has released is something to do with it. What do people do on here to be well-informed? Do others feels that they SHOULD be well-informed, and - if so - should this aim be confined to certain specific areas of information, given that every area of information is so labyrinthine and complex that it's well-nigh impossible to be well informed about even ONE thing?

In summary:

 
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Corpsey

call me big papa
This has been weighing upon my mind lately, like a pile of unread books - like the pile of unread books, in fact, which lie next to my bed.

But this thread was prompted by this article http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/what-is-aleppo

Of course, a political candidate should know all about the Syrian war. But, shamefully enough, I wouldn't have known what 'Aleppo' was either, if you'd asked me without pre-warning me to bone up on world affairs. I should know about the Syrian war, shouldn't I? But then, what good is it that I do know about it? I suppose because it shapes my attitude towards, say, immigration and the refugee crisis, and that attitude will naturally be disseminated through my circle of acquaintances and beyond?
 

Leo

Well-known member
the feeling is understandable and human, but there's no way you can be up on everything and the people who pretend to be are usually just blowhards. the majority of people you're anxious about "keeping up" with on all these topics are probably equally or even less informed than you are.

social media exacerbates the anxiety, makes it seem like everyone out there has an expert opinion on everything. it's an illusion, and you'll always be disappointed if you strive for what realistically is an unattainable level of expertise. i also think the anxiety lessens with age: as you get older, you give less of a shit what other people think/say/do.

i'm hardly an expert, but my advice is to remain inquisitive on topics of interest and stay open to new areas of interest, but don't torture yourself in trying to be all-knowing.
 
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Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
It's the postmodern condition, innit.

Some sage advice from Leo, there.

Alternatively, you could try and know literally everything there is to know, but to do so you'd probably have to read - oh, picking a figure entirely out of the air - at least 150 books a year.
 

baboon2004

Darned cockwombles.
Great idea for a thread, and I think Leo's answer contains a great deal of truth - it is easy to be hoodwinked that others are more well-informed/expert than they actually are.

My pov these days is that I prefer to read books and articles that attempt to make connections between different disciplines, attempt to join the dots between all the different areas of knowledge that there are, try to make sense of the world in a broader way. For example, you mentioned Syria - I really like Patrick Cockburn's writing, because he writes not only about his interpretation of events on the ground, but about the difficulty of ever understanding 100% what is going on, owing to - for example - the various ways that the pressures of the 24 hour news agenda warp and shape what 'reality' of events is presented in the media. And he also presents region-wide context for what is happening/has happened in Syria, both geographically and historically.


PS 'What is Aleppo?' will surely be sampled by someone, if it hasn't been already. Another bizarre TV moment for 2016.
 

john eden

male pale and stale
Basically what Leo said but also worth remembering what Oliver James said about Affluenza - people have a tendency to compare themselves only to people better off than them. He was talking about wealth but the same is true of knowledge, cultural capital etc.

There is almost certainly a tonne of stuff you know about that most other people don't - you won't find that out online but if you do get into conversation with people at work or in the pub or whatever it's a good reminder that there are areas you are quite clued up on without knowing about it and also the same is true of other people - often surprisingly.

If you believe those tabloid surveys quite a few people know much less than you might think:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2345355.stm

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/gen...id-you-know-theres-an-election-this-year.html
 

rubberdingyrapids

Active member
i have a similar problem tbh. im trying to just give myself a break about it though. as in, its okay if im not 100% up to date with everything in british politics and dont watch newsnight every night of the week (i havent watched it in a few weeks actually, tut tut). esp at the moment, when i feel more like reading a book on the train every morning rather than the paper. or yesterday, when i could have read something useful, but instead chose to watch my dvd of bad guy (kim ki duk is like the korean abel ferrara, but maybe even more twisted). but like leo said, its okay, you cant possibly know about everything. i think im just trying to make up for my younger years when my interests were more limited. and the rabbit holes the internet can lead you down make you so much more aware of how much you dont know.

a lot of people who seem like they are so much more informed are often just better at appearing that way. this is potentially terrible advice, but maybe work on how you can appear authoritative, rather than actually being 100% authoritative. (though obv not if its a situation where you should genuinely have the knowledge, but as i dont believe you are going to be responsible for any major military invasions, i think this is okay)
 

john eden

male pale and stale
Yeah that confidence comes from going to a posh school and Oxbridge - bullshitting your way through tutorials and making the other person feel like they are in the wrong if they question you or don't understand something.
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
a lot of people who seem like they are so much more informed are often just better at appearing that way. this is potentially terrible advice, but maybe work on how you can appear authoritative, rather than actually being 100% authoritative.
Relevant: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning–Kruger_effect



If you haven't heard of it, it's a well-supported result from experimental psychology that highly intelligent people are much more likely to underrate their skills than overrate them (the feeling of 'imposter syndrome' - "how can they possibly have accepted/hired me, I'm not qualified for this course/job") whereas less intelligent people tend to overestimate their own abilities (the D-K effect per se). Combine this phenomenon with the inborn confidence/arrogance that comes from attending a posh school and an elite university, and you can see the traits of so many of our politicians come from.
 

rubberdingyrapids

Active member
its a bit like that line that JP (ie jack whitehall, everyones favourite loveable toff) says in fresh meat - "i have the kind of accent that can make people shit themselves at 12 paces"
 

baboon2004

Darned cockwombles.
Emily Thornberry's recent inability (as Shadow Foreign Secretary) to name the French Foreign Minister probably deserves a mention here.

And from an article about her gaffe, a list of other politicians not knowing things you'd really expect them to know (with the exception of Loftus Road, I think):

"In 2011, Dermot Murnaghan asked then shadow chancellor Alan Johnson to give the current rate of employers’ national insurance contributions, something the new minister was unable to answer. Johnson resigned his position 10 days later, citing personal reasons.

In January this year, the former education secretary Nicky Morgan refused to say what seven times eight was while appearing on ITV’s Good Morning Britain to announce a new maths test for 11-year-olds. Labour schools minister Stephen Byers was also famously unable to calculate seven times eight when interviewed by BBC Radio 5 in 1998.

In an interview with the BBC in the runup to the London mayoral election, Conservative party candidate Zac Goldsmith failed to name underground stations on the Central line and to correctly identify Queens Park Rangers as the football team that plays at Loftus Road."
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
In January this year, the former education secretary Nicky Morgan refused to say what seven times eight was while appearing on ITV’s Good Morning Britain to announce a new maths test for 11-year-olds. Labour schools minister Stephen Byers was also famously unable to calculate seven times eight when interviewed by BBC Radio 5 in 1998.
Lol, do you reckon these days all ministers and senior officials connected in any way with education have a very discreet little 56 tattooed on their inner wrist?
 

Leo

Well-known member
In January this year, the former education secretary Nicky Morgan refused to say what seven times eight was while appearing on ITV’s Good Morning Britain to announce a new maths test for 11-year-olds. Labour schools minister Stephen Byers was also famously unable to calculate seven times eight when interviewed by BBC Radio 5 in 1998.

In an interview with the BBC in the runup to the London mayoral election, Conservative party candidate Zac Goldsmith failed to name underground stations on the Central line and to correctly identify Queens Park Rangers as the football team that plays at Loftus Road."
agree with the others you mention but these two are just basic stupidity as opposed to not being up on the latest news and trends, right?
 

Corpsey

call me big papa
a lot of people who seem like they are so much more informed are often just better at appearing that way. this is potentially terrible advice, but maybe work on how you can appear authoritative, rather than actually being 100% authoritative. (though obv not if its a situation where you should genuinely have the knowledge, but as i dont believe you are going to be responsible for any major military invasions, i think this is okay)
I was going to say that I don't want to be informed so that I can appear well informed, but truth be told I do wonder what it is that makes me think I should read all these books. Is it because I want to read them (in which case I'd have a tough time tearing myself away from them to watch Netflix), or is it because I think if I have read them, I'll be a better person?

Partly, I think, it's an aspiration of mine to be a better writer, and I figure that the more I read the better I will get at writing. But then, I also think I plough these books for wisdom, for things that will change and enrich my perspective of life. Listening to music, by contrast, is (as much as it can be for a part-time music critic and Dissensian :D) purely pleasurable.
 

baboon2004

Darned cockwombles.
I loved that article, was reading bits out to people for about a week after reading it`. Inbox Zero (what a genius name) must rank as peak bullshit; someone should make a film about the rise and breakdown of Merlin Mann.

"One of the sneakier pitfalls of an efficiency-based attitude to time is that we start to feel pressured to use our leisure time “productively”, too – an attitude which implies that enjoying leisure for its own sake, which you might have assumed was the whole point of leisure, is somehow not quite enough."
Well, quite. Bane of my life, recently at least.
 
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