Many people in the United States purchase one or fewer books every year.
Many of those people have seen every single episode of American Idol. There is clearly a correlation here.
Access to knowledge, for the first time in history, is largely unimpeded for the middle class. Without effort or expense, it’s possible to become informed if you choose. For less than your cable TV bill, you can buy and read an important book every week. Share the buying with six friends and it costs far less than coffee.
Or you can watch TV.
The thing is, watching TV has its benefits. It excuses you from the responsibility of having an informed opinion about things that matter. It gives you shallow opinions or false ‘facts’ that you can easily parrot to others that watch what you watch. It rarely unsettles our carefully self-induced calm and isolation from the world.
I got a note from someone the other day, in which she made it clear that she doesn’t read non-fiction books or blogs related to her industry. And she seemed proud of this.
I was roped into an argument with someone who was sure that ear candling was a useful treatment. Had he read any medical articles on the topic? No. But he knew. Or said he did.
You see a lot of ostensibly smart people in airports, and it always surprises me how few of them use this downtime to actually become more informed. It’s clearly a deliberate act–in our infoculture, it takes work not to expose yourself to interesting ideas, facts, news and points of view. Hal Varian at Google reports that the average person online spends seventy seconds a day reading online news. Ouch.
Not all books are correct or useful. Not all accepted science is correct. The conventional wisdom might just be wrong. But ignoring all of it because the truth is now fashionably situational and in the eye of the beholder is a lame alternative.
I know this rant is nothing new. In fact, people have been complaining about widespread willful ignorance since Brutus or Caesar or whoever invented the salad… the difference now is this: more people than ever are creators. More people than ever go to work to use their minds, not just their hands. And more people than ever have a platform to share their point of view. I think that raises the bar for our understanding of how the world works.
Let’s assert for the moment that you get paid to create, manipulate or spread ideas. That you don’t get paid to lift bricks or hammer steel. If you’re in the idea business, what’s going to improve your career, get you a better job, more respect or a happier day? Forgive me for suggesting (to those not curious enough to read this blog and others) that it might be reading blogs, books or even watching TED talks.
As for the deliberately uninformed, we can ignore them or we can reach out to them and hopefully start a pattern of people thinking for themselves…