Last month, the QI Elves announced on Twitter that Quidditch had been invented in Edinburgh. JK Rowling quickly corrected this. “Untrue, I’m afraid!” she tweeted, “Quidditch was invented in Manchester”. As Manchester blogs everywhere quickly reported the ‘news’ about the fictional game from the fictional book, I couldn’t help laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. But as the local media also jumped on the band wagon, I found myself questioning why they would even bother reporting such as thing. Clearly, the reason for sharing this vital piece of news was because they felt that this is what readers want.
I’m all for a piece of easy gossip and shock facts, but it feels that the Western world is gorging on these fast-paced, shallow snippets of news, whilst rejecting the carefully thought-out and presented article, which argues both sides and comes up with an opinion based on the facts. It’s the information equivalent of fast food – easily digested, hardly nutritious and leaves you hungry for more. With the fast-paced world of the internet and social media, it’s important to get the news out first; even if there is no news, even if you don’t have all the facts. It’s all about the number of click throughs you can get to an article, how many people you can get to visit your site by sharing and re-tweeting. It doesn’t matter too much if people think the news is newsworthy, what matters is that it amuses and it’s something that they think will amuse their friends.
It’s no wonder then that someone like Donald Trump has become President. He talks to the people in that same digestible way. Australian comedian Jim Jefferies referred to this at one of his gigs in Nashville. “Donald Trump, don’t get me wrong, he’s a lot of fun….. But just because someone says something simple that you understand, doesn’t mean they’re a straight talker.” Unfortunately though, this is what people seem to want – simple language that they don’t have to try and decipher. The man may be stupid, but he speaks a language that people think they understand. It doesn’t matter if what he says is based on facts, facts don’t matter anymore. It’s about who can speak in the simplest language, creating the most reactions and engage with the public. Donald Trump achieves this perfectly.
As a nation though, we can’t afford to become this lazy and complacent, and we can’t afford the younger generations to follow suit. The very fact we can reason is a key human trait, why we have made such leaps in scientific development. Will the very technology we have created be responsible for turning us back into simple apes, where we laugh at GIFS, but couldn’t possibly follow a well structured argument?
In a time of political upheaval and lies, where there is huge poverty and inequality and where vast areas of the world are at war, can we afford to ignore the real news? Ironically, the internet, which should bring countries closer together, seems to be keeping us further apart and is making us more self absorbed.
So next time you’re tempted to pick up your phone and scroll through Facebook or Twitter through pages of mindless video clips, don’t. Instead, choose to read more, to challenge your beliefs, develop arguments and to educate yourself and those around you. Look at the person across from you and engage in conversation, and resist the lure of social media. It’s in those moments when you can really begin to make a difference. That Big Mac might look fabulous, but you know it will just going to leave you with a sick feeling to your stomach.