“Interpretation” is defined as the action of explaining the meaning of something or a stylistic representation of a creative work or dramatic role. The first part of the definition deals with an evaluation, and the second an expression. Today’s post deals with the first – how do we evaluate people and information?
Proverbs 20:5 The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.
A New Era
The industrial era ended in the late 1980’s ushering in a new era – the information age. This new phenomenon is based upon the rapid and expansive proliferation of digital data through computerization. This advanced technology was first applied in making industry and production more efficient. It quickly moved into every area of modern life including: education, communication, entertainment, politics, governance, manufacturing, transportation, militarization, robotics, medicine, art, etc. We’re are constantly inundated with information!
In 1945, it was estimated libraries’ size and informational content doubled roughly every 16 years. Today, the informational explosion has become virtually incalculable. In 2000, 1.9 zettabytes of information were being transmitted daily, which is the equivalent of each person on the planet “ingesting” 174 newspapers! Everyday! While it’s true that the typical person is not attempting to read 174 newspapers per day, the do feel the not-so-subtle pressure to “know” and “process” a tremendous amount of data they’re being inundated with every day.
Social Media & Entertainment
Social media has forever transformed the way we see ourselves, the way we see others, and how we interact with our world. There are some very positive aspects to social media: marketing, connecting, and expressing have all become much more prolific. However, as with most things, too much of a good thing becomes a “bad” thing. Social media is not within the scope of this paper, but rather how social media is being used as yet another mode of rapidly transmitting information.
The Human Response
How do we react to this massive, incessant, rapid influx of information? We feel a pressure to interpret this vast quantity of sensory input and reach some conclusions rapidly. There are at least four very human responses to the information age:
1. Reduce the content. We don’t have time for long, elaborate descriptions of superfluous information. We need the “Reader’s Digest” version, or as Dragnet’s Sergeant Joe Friday would say, “Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.” This pressure and human tendency yielded today’s media “sound bite.” We’re too busy and have way too much going on to spend too much time on any one thing. The danger to this first response is to miss valuable details, communication styles, biased sources, and nuanced agendas. The end result – a flawed interpretation.
2. Censor the source. Our minds like agreement and continuity, so new information can quickly
and efficiently be fit into existing “file cabinets” of similar data. To facilitate quick processing of
information, we try to expose ourselves to informational sources we already tend to agree with. This
minimizes the unpleasantness of our world view and perspectives being challenged. When we
undertake this second response, we run the risk of not only lessening the quality of the information we receive, but also reducing our capacity to process divergent data. Our minds begin to suffer under complacency and familiarity and miss the mental gymnastics involved in wrestling with opposing views.
3. Avoid the scrutiny. When responses one and two above are unsuccessful in creating mental
nirvana (the absence of any difficulty or challenges to our views), we simply “change the channel” in our minds and move quickly to happier territory. Human beings will go to great lengths to avoid discomfort; and the mental discomfort involved when we ingest information inconsistent with our views can be intense. However, spending a few more precious moments evaluating a conflicting viewpoint enriches us as a person and increases our capacity for effective thought.
We must understand how the world has changed with the advent of the Information Age, and consider the incredible quantity of information we’re bombarded with every hour. Examine yourself and those around you to see how this pressure has caused you to undertake the three responses above. Then be intentional to become better at interpreting the data coming at you in rapid-fire fashion.
Don’t’ be afraid. We fear what we don’t understand, and many people fear opposing
viewpoints. Begin to open yourself up to hearing things that may not be consistent with your views, and your views will either be expanded or solidified.
Follow the money. Research who benefits from the information being shared. This may yield insight into the motivation of the transmission and how much confidence you should place in it. Consider the source. Notice I didn’t say to “Censor” the source, but to “consider” it. Most people today involved in the transmission of information, whether formally as a professional on a network, or informally as a purveyor of social media scuttlebutt, have an agenda. They’re after something. Most people want you to think like they think, value what they value, support what they support.
Resist absolutism. We like to reach conclusions quickly for the reasons listed above. This pressure causes us to over-simplify the information we’re receiving:
- CNN is bad, Fox is good
- Global warming is true and caused by humans, or it’s a lie and not real science
- Muslims are evil and Christians are good
- President Trump is the greatest thing ever, or he’s the worst ever
- God wants you to be rich and healthy, or He wants you to take a vow of poverty
I could go on and on. We develop, over time, our viewpoints and opinions; then we seek out information that is consistent with those viewpoints and reject any inconsistencies. Further, we attack or minimize opposing positions to strengthen our own. This is referred to as “bias” and indicates a flawed view of reality. Saying, “I’m very opinionated,” and “I just tell it like it is,” is thought to be a badge of honor, when it should be a blight of humiliation. A “dogma” is defined as a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true. This is where we get the word, “dogmatic” from. We become our own (and whoever else will listen) authority, transmitting information that is incontrovertibly true… until it’s not. Our capacity for “wrongness” is legion and should soften our biases and dogmas to the point where conversation is truly possible again.
Examine yourself daily. It’s painful, but necessary, for all of us who want to be healthy and decent individuals to examine ourselves critically and honestly. This examination requires some measure or “standard” by which our lives and thoughts can be evaluated. The only true and reliable standard is the bible. Open yours today and examine yourself; then go have a good, healthy, humble conversation with your world and interpret information in light of your new-found reality.