Much has been made of the question about what it is to be an informed citizen. We’re instructed to “read widely,” “engage in debate”, “seek out new viewpoints,” etc. The message is clear: the more information you consume, the better informed you will be. On its face, this is reasonable and well-intentioned advice. The problem is that it’s also completely wrong. We’ve become so enamored with the availability of information that we’re forgetting to first judge the quality of our information. For years I practiced this kind of information consumption — particularly with the daily news — only to become burned out by an overload of unfiltered, inaccurate, biased, and ultimately low-quality information. As a result, I’ve decided to take a new approach: don’t read widely, read wisely.
Most of us want to be good consumers of information. We see ourselves as intelligent, well-read, critical thinkers, and we bring that perspective to our professional and social interactions. All day we are flooded with new information. We check our newsfeeds, listen to podcasts, read through social media, and watch cable news. Naturally, after consuming so much information, we consider ourselves to be well-informed. And yet, if pressed to go deeper on that article we read, or the study we heard about, few of us can do so. In truth, our knowledge about the world is often broad and shallow, leaving us unprepared to effectively engage on the things we care about.
The above is nothing new — information is not knowledge and most of us know that. But the modern information landscape nonetheless presses us to constantly consume what it has on offer. Cable news, with its never-ending “breaking” stories, demeans us as uninformed if we aren’t among the first to hear the latest updates. Social media bombards us with headlines, links, and commentary, all without any filter for accuracy or quality. And we do ourselves no favors when we interact with one another either — often casting judgmental glances when someone has failed to read an interesting story or follow an influential personality. But how much of this actually matters in our lives? How much contributes to the depth of our knowledge on the things that we care about?