sábado, 14 de julio de 2007

Deciding on the War

The war in Iraq is already lost and the president is doing a terrible job according to approval ratings, which are at an all-time low. This seems to be the general consensus of Americans, but how do they come to this conclusion? Are people making educated decisions when it comes to the war and the president or is everyone really confused about the whole thing? I conclude that most people are more confused and riding on the anti bandwagon than anything else. I come to this conclusion by looking at the flawed way that people make decisions in that they are dooped into advertising style branding and falling for the trends of what is most popular. This is happening due to the overwhelming amount of information that creates a paradox of choice.
Opinions are more often bought as a lifestyle than made up in one’s own mind. We make choices based on experience but when it comes to choosing to like or dislike the president and the war we have little personal experience. So we not only use our own past experiences, but also the experiences and expertise of others. While gathering information, we need to know that the information is reliable, and we need to have enough time to get through all the info that is available. Information about current events and news now comes through more sources than ever before which make it neither reliable, nor does it give us enough time to go through it all. TV shows and channels provide information to be gathered but many times news is masquerading as entertainment, and is concerned less about the facts and more about high ratings. Also information is gathered through newspapers, magazines, opinions through music and movies, and now the expanse of the internet. Unfortunately, providing useful decision making information is not the point in all these kinds of news/information sources. Since there are so many options and different opinions, it makes it difficult for marketers to differentiate their products from similar ones. Instead of changing their product, they change the branding of the product to make customers think that its different, which is a lot easier. So now products are sold by associating the product with a glamorous life style. Many people fall for the branding done by advertisers and media companies and are buying into certain opinions because of the lifestyle associated with them instead of reading the facts and coming to their own conclusions.
People also accept what is most frequent and popular instead of accepting the facts. Lets say you may go to the source and read the data/news yourself to come to your own conclusion but then you hear of some vivid story from a friend that is rare but much more attention grabbing than the data you have studied yourself. It’s likely that you will give more weight to this extremely vivid information based on personal, detailed, face-to-face accounts than the information you gathered on your own. In one study, researchers asked respondents to estimate the number of deaths per year that occur as a result of various diseases, car accidents, natural disasters, homicides, etc.-forty different types in all. The results showed that the people surveyed thought that the deaths caused by accidents were equal to the amount of deaths caused from dieses, when in fact disease causes 16 times more deaths. Death from homicide was thought to be as frequent as death from stroke, when in fact eleven times more people die from strokes than by homicide. In conclusion, vivid deaths were overestimated and more mundane causes of deaths were underestimated. Continuing in this study, the researchers looked at two newspapers published on opposite sides of the U.S., and they counted the number of stories involving various causes of death. The frequency of newspaper coverage and the respondents estimates of frequency of death were almost perfectly correlated. People mistook the pervasiveness of stories about homicides and accidents as a sign of frequency of the events profiled. The same thing is happening with the coverage of Iraq. It doesn’t take long to see how every other article online is about President Bush’s and the Iraq war’s low approval rating. I think it is because of the regularity of negative aspects of Bush and the War that they have such low approval ratings.
So how come people are so susceptible to accepting trendy opinions and over-played news stories? I think it is because the amount of information is piling up and people are becoming overloaded and no one has the time to go through it all on their own.
Much of human progress has involved reducing the time and energy we spend for each of us to get the necessities of life. We moved from hunting and gathering to subsistence agriculture to when not every individual had to spend all his time everyday on filling his stomach. One could specialize in a certain skill and then trade it for other products. Manufactures made life easier still by selling food and clothing at the same general store. The variety was small but the time spent procuring them as small as well.
The same goes for finding information to make an educated decisions on issues like the war in Iraq. In the past, all information was taken from newspapers or from a few channels on TV. The variety of news was small but the time spent procuring it was small as well. But now thanks to the internet and democratization of information, this is the end of spoon fed orthodoxy and infallible institutions. We now have the tools to question authority. In theory, a society that asks questions and has the power to answer them is healthier than one that simply accepts what it is told from a narrow range of expert and institutions. But with too many sources of information, we become overloaded and opt to take the easiest source of news as the reliable one. If professional affiliation is no longer a proxy for authority, we need to develop our own gauges of quality. But the problem is, with so many choices, choice no longer liberates, but deliberates creating a paradox of choice.
In the past few decades that process of simplifying and bundling economic offerings in the general store, and bundling the news in the limited amount of channels, has been reversed. Increasingly the trend is moving us back to time-consuming foraging behavior once again, as each of us are forced to sift for ourselves through more and more options in almost every aspect of life including making up our minds on the situation in Iraq.
As the number of choices we face continue to escalate and the amount of information we need escalates with it, we may find ourselves increasingly relying on secondhand information. And as communication increases and becomes more global, each of us, no matter where we are, may end up relying on the same secondhand information. News sources like CNN tell everyone in the country the same story, which makes it less likely that an individual’s biased understanding of the evidence will be corrected by friends and neighbors. When you hear the same story everywhere you look and listen, you assume it to be true. And the more people believe that it’s true, the more likely they will repeat it, and thus the more likely you are to hear it. This is how inaccurate information can create a bandwagon effect leading to a broad but mistaken consensus.
Is everyone mistaken? Maybe, maybe not. But make sure its your opinion and not someone else's that your caliming to be your own.

1 comentario:

Marc Jorgensen dijo...

thats some deep stuff Zach. don't worry i didn't freak out about the few typos.