Código Aberto
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Código Aberto

Too much information, too much uncertainty

This is one of the greatest paradoxes that we are starting to experience in the digital age, when we are faced with an avalanche of contradictory versions whenever the press addresses a complex topic, such as the pandemic Covid-19 or the Amazon fires. It is a phenomenon that contradicts our way of viewing information and signals a profound mismatch in the entire system of production, processing, and dissemination of news.

The avalanche of data, facts, ideas, and events, published on the internet, also multiplied the uncertainties about almost everything we know about society and the world in which we live. The information avalanche has exponentially increased the number of perceptions and opinions both about what we already know and about what we are beginning to discover. This is an irreversible mega transformation in our information culture and about which the mainstream press maintains an intriguing silence.

The paradox of more information / less certainty undermines one of the basic principles of traditional media, which is the idea of ​​news as an effective instrument in defining what is right or wrong, true or false. This assumption it’s one of the cornerstones of the credibility of the press, upon which the business model of newspapers is based.

The more abstract the processes, phenomena, and ideas treated by the media, the greater the number of doubts and insecurities, a phenomenon that ends up feeding the hate speech because in the face of uncertainty people tend to cling to what they consider safe by rejecting what contradicts your convictions. To get an idea of ​​this phenomenon, just see the radicalization in discussions about the Trump government on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp.

The informational avalanche is a concrete and irreversible fact. Until 2010, specialized institutes measured the volume of material inserted in internet sites, but the amount grew so much that the numbers became meaningless. IDC (International Data Corporation) states that by the end of 2020, about 1.7 megabytes of new information will be available online per second and per human being. Estimates indicate that by December of the same year, the total of data digitized on the web should reach 44 zettabytes or 44 trillion gigabytes. It is such a large volume that it far exceeds our ability to figure it out.

The era of complexity

The vertiginous increase of uncertainties in our daily deal with the reality that surrounds us configures what specialists called the era of complexity. There are no more simple things, like black or white. Everything is now potentially complicated depending on the intensity of two phenomena known as selective exposure (selective exposure) and selective perception (selective perspective), both studied by American psychologists Albert Hastorf and Hadley Cantril (*), by comparing the reactions of fans to the outcome of a football game.

Research has shown that people tend to find information, preferably in newspapers, magazines, books, radio, and television in which they find some sort of political, ideological, religious, or social identity. Selective exposure, in academic jargon, is a form that the individual uses for two predominant reasons: feeling comfortable because he shares the same political, religious, economic or social ideas as the publication; and filter the content you have access to reduce the complexity of reading, listening or viewing.

Selective perception, on the other hand, is a process by which people evaluate new data, facts, events, or news based on what they already know or know. Both processes end up consolidating pre-existing opinions and knowledge, that are basic components of the so-called “information bubbles”, a resource that most people use to avoid the disturbing feeling of doubt, uncertainty, and vulnerability to antagonistic positions.

The information bubbles are on a direct collision course with the irreversible data avalanche on the internet. It is no longer possible to stop the increase in data digitized and made available over the internet, which also generates the inevitable corollary that uncertainties also tend to become more intense and permanent. Everything indicates that we are already being led to choose between joining any of the thousands of “information bubbles” or learning to live with doubt and uncertainty.

The first option is the easiest because it does not involve major dilemmas or conflicts, but it places us in an unreal environment. Living with doubt fundamentally changes the way we see the world and people because it forces us to always take into consideration the possibility that our opinions or perceptions are wrong. It means admitting that someone knows what I don’t know, and that solving any dilemma, or difficulty, requires dialogue. It is the world of new technologies forcing us to assume new behaviors, rules, and values.

(*) They saw a game; a case study. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 49 (1), 129–134. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0057880

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Carlos Castilho

Jornalista, pesquisador em jornalismo comunitário e professor. Brazilian journalist, post doctoral researcher, teacher and media critic