“The world is too big for us, too much is going on, too many crimes, too much violence and excitement. Try as you will, you get behind in the race in spite of yourself. it’s a constant strain to keep pace … and still, you lose ground. Science empties its discoveries on you so fast that you stagger beneath them in hopeless bewilderment. The political world is news seen rapidly, you’re out of breath trying to keep pace with who’s in and who’s out. Everything is high pressure. Human nature can’t endure much more.”
Atlantic Journal
June 16, 1883

A hundred years later, Richard Saul Wurman wrote this in his book, Information Anxiety: “A weekday edition of The New York Times contains more information than the average person was likely to come across in a lifetime in seventeenth-century England”.

Last week, we watched on television as our astronauts repaired the Hubble Telescope but I remember reading that when the automobile was first invented, some scientists and medical professionals feared that the human body could not withstand moving at such a high rate of speed – some 25 miles per hour. My cell phone is indispensable part of my life and yet I recently read that half of the world’s population will never make or receive a telephone call.

According to the Columbia Journalism Review, in 2006, the world produced 161 exabytes of digital information. (An exabyte is 1 quintillion bytes). To grasp the perspective of that little factoid, that’s 3 million times the information contained in all the books ever written. By 2010 (yes, that’s next year), that number is expected to reach 988 exabytes. (A show of hands please … Does anyone actually understand those numbers and what they mean to our everyday lives?)

A friend recently said, “I’m feeling world-news weary these days. It seems like there just is no answer“.

I suspect a lot of us are suffering from much more than an information overload. Much of the problem, as I see it, is that we have no way of easily recognizing fact from fiction.

I start most days with news on BBC and CNN.

(Bran Muffin’s Pet Peeve – Why do so many of the so-called journalists look like they’re heading out to a cocktail party? And, why can’t they find clothes in their size? When did we forget what a real journalist is supposed look like or how they are supposed to behave? I watch the news and yearn for Walter Cronkite and news you could actually trust.)

Along with cable TV news, I’m a huge fan of National Public Radio and I read parts of several newspapers on my computer. And yet, if you were to ask me to tell you how or where I find the difference between information, disinformation and misinformation, I would not be able to tell you a source for reliable answers.

The reason? Agendas. Everyone has one. Just like the Wizard of Oz, every news story has someone behind the curtain trying to sell you their product, get their candidate elected, persuade you their product/person is better than the other guy‘s. When I hear someone demand an “unbiased source”, I have to chuckle. There’s no such thing as an unbiased source. There never has been, never will be.

Added to the so-called “hard news” is the fluff like email chain letters. Out of all the hundreds of email chain letters I’ve received, I would estimate that no more than 1 or 2% of these ubiquitous annoyances have any basis in fact.

If I wanted to get rich, I’d set up a post office box and start chain letter asking for donations to pay for surgery to cure a little girl’s brain tumor. Sounds ridiculous, but that’s only one of many nonsensical chain letters that clog our email boxes and increase the spam. Apparently it has been a fairly lucrative ploy because the oldies but goodies show up again every few years. Another one that paid well for a while was the “send money to Nigeria so you can claim the huge inheritance left to you by a rich uncle”.

I recently received a chain email that explained in great detail what the folding of our flag signified. I usually delete these without reading them but our Constitution took a real beating during the eight years of the past presidency so my curiosity was piqued.
None of the elaborate drawings of the folding of our flag had a basis in fact any more than the plea to write your congressman to demand that we keep our “God given rights” and that, ”…our Pledge of Allegiance remain as it was written: ‘… one nation, under God…’.”

I’m certain that most people who gave it any thought would realize that no one’s god “gave” us our rights. Our Constitution, including the First Amendment which guarantees the freedom of religion, as well as the separation of church and state, was fought for with the blood of thousands of men and women. And, of course, the phrase “under god” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance by the Catholic Knights of Columbus in 1951.

Our founding fathers are rolling over and over in their graves!

To anyone who has been taken in by these chain letters … Don’t feel bad. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t fallen for it at least once. What’s important is to take the minute or two that it takes to find out if there is any truth to your chain letter BEFORE you send it to others. Two of my favorite sources are …

Additionally, please always remove the old forwarding addresses and use the BCC function in your email program for anything you do forward. And be kind and considerate enough to inform the person who sent it to you that the piece is fiction. Not only does this save more people from being embarrassed, it also helps to cut down on the spam that clogs so many email accounts.

Whether its “hard news” or chain letters, what is troubling is that fiction often wins out over fact. And we never even know it. While most of us have access to fact and fiction via the internet, we have no way of knowing if what we read and hear every day is true.

We are facing global warming, global financial collapse, gas prices that change daily, health and education systems in shreds, credit card companies who get away with loan shark tactics and more. While our sitting president struggles to pull our country together, an ultra conservative talk show entertainer apparently carries more weight with his party than our ex-president.

What does all this mean?

Heck if I know.

Guess I’ll go read The Onion.

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