Critically Thinking Through an Information Overload

President Obama was quoted at Hampton University:

You’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter. … With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations –none of which I know how to work – information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a dorm of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.”

Does Obama have a point? I can’t tell you the last time I sat and read a physical newspaper. I get a vast majority of my information online and the rest from television. If I’m feeling frisky I might even turn on the radio or tune into a podcast. That means I rely solely on technology to keep me informed. That’s incredible… and scary.

Various technologies and the internet allow anyone to be heard and everyone to become an expert. But the reality is that not everyone is an expert and not everything reported is accurate. College professors have to distinguish what a credible source is for students writing research papers. For those of you who are curious: Wikipedia, though incredibly popular, does not count. The fact of the matter is that a lot of content out there isn’t accurate, is biased, or is irrelevant “noise.”

So how do we embrace the internet without getting lazy? The RED Model can help you critically think about what you’re reading online.

Recognize assumptions.

Distinguish fact from opinion. Ask yourself: why do you believe the information is accurate? Is there evidence to back this up?

Seek Alternative View Points. Seek out sources that may not always share the same viewpoints and see if the content overlaps. As yourself how the content might be different if different assumptions were made.

Evaluate arguments.

Recognize bias. Avoid giving more credibility to sources you automatically trust, make sure there are facts to back up what they’re saying.

Draw conclusions.

Weigh the data carefully. Identify what is relevant data and avoid getting distracted by noise.

Use multiple sources to validate and confirm information and findings. Check the sources being used and who is quoted.

As technology advances and we are “bombarded” with more and more messages we shouldn’t retreat and accept everything as Truth. Instead we should increase our engagement and critically think about what we’re reading.

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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Elizabeth Pauker-Silva

2 responses to “Critically Thinking Through an Information Overload”

  1. Breanne

    Excellent post! I was initially floored by Obama’s statement about information/technology being a distraction, but I think the point is well taken. If we cannot decipher between fact and opinion, then that information is a distraction. We must be vigilant critical thinkers as we consume information regardless of where we see/read it.

  2. Eric

    The irony here is that Obama campaigned heavily using XBOX. he not only had campaign information on the XBOX Live dashboard, but his campaign information was also integrated into several video games such as Burnout Paradise and Madden. You could even make Obama’s campaign pic your gamer picture. Ironic. So, XBOX was good enough when he could control the message, but not now that the information could be negative.

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