Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal wrote a very interesting commentary on how the omnipresent media may pressure our political leaders to make decisions that they would not otherwise have made. Of course, the media’s role as a watchdog, keeping our leaders honest, is critical. But, the speed at which events unwind and the pressure that the “informed” public puts on our institutions for action may not lead to the best outcomes.
There was a letter to the editor in response to her article that outlined a historical event where “slowness of communications” was actually a virtue. At the start of the Civil War, a Union officer illegally detained two Confederate diplomats on a British ship, the Trent, who were heading to London for negotiations. Had there been instant communication of this event, it would very likely have resulted in Britain entering the war on the side of the South. As it was, the time necessary to get communications between Washington and London allowed emotions to cool and escalation was avoided.
The writer has an excellent insight to our current information age:
“Today it is assumed that speed of communication is an absolute virtue. Combining speed with a lack of context, electronic media radically undermines reflection and criticism. We live in a sea of thoughtlessness, informing ourselves to death.”
I worry about this situation in my current consumption of information. In fact, as I write this, I have an almost involuntary twitch where I’m toggling back and forth between my notepad and my email to see if there is anything “new” that needs my attention. We are all consumers of information, be it current events, reports, or emails from colleagues. We need to make sure we don’t live in the Sea of Thoughtlessness but dig deeper into the context of the information we are receiving to truly understand how it should impact our actions.