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May 5, 2009

By Shirah Foy

As I sat down to write this article—supposedly summarizing ‘right aisle’ perspectives on major historical events since the creation of this country—I could not help but lament my lack of familiarity with many of the events that needed to be included: 1820’s Populist Rise, Great Depression, Women’s Suffrage, Cold War, etc.  What’s worse –the whole motivation behind writing a historical piece was an attempt to cache my lack of familiarity with current events.  It is embarrassing to admit that I currently have only a vague idea of what is going on beyond my immediate environs, yet I sense that I am not alone. 

With the rise of the Information Age, gaining access to breaking news is now effortless, but it seems that people, like me, are less and less informed. How has this happened?

There are several reasons why we rest blatantly oblivious to the world around us. 

For one, we are inundated and intimidated by news everywhere.  “Thai Army Chief Vows to End ‘Chaos’ as Protests Widen” (NY Times), “Lebanon’s Hezbollah savors increasing legitimacy” (LA Times), “Lucky to Be Alive: Attacked By a Polar Bear” (ABC News), “Bullies Drive Boy to Suicide” (ABC News), “Madagascar: Cyclone Kills 9” (NY Times).  These are only a few of today’s headlines from major news publications across the country.  Couple that with hectic mornings—finishing that last minute research paper, getting in some exercise, maybe grabbing a bite to eat before heading out the door—the news can be a lot for students to tackle.  So we opt out. 

It becomes increasingly difficult for students to stay informed because many issues not seem relevant to our individual lives.  We do not want to be bothered with information that is not essential to the task at hand; it takes up space in our working memory—space that many of us are reluctant to proffer.  We are even more reluctant because it is difficult to see how many of the headlines affect our families, jobs—our lives.

We also have a variety of entertaining distractions at our disposal. Have you ever spent an entire evening on Facebook or Twitter?  Although these interfaces have great didactic potential, little of the transpiring information could honestly be called objective and informative.  Add in TV, iPods, and video games, and it becomes clear that intelligent, thought-provoking news has many competitors for our attention.

I have come to several conclusions: (1) Informing oneself is a conscious choice and must be self-motivated. An authority teacher, or professor, cannot enforce it. (2) Maintaining my status as an informed individual will require a time commitment. Personally, I plan to block out 30 minutes a day to read a newspaper or informative online source. (3) Getting started is the hardest part.

The only remaining question is “why?” Why sacrifice the simplicity of an uninformed life? Why break through the societal bubble?

There are superficial reasons. Knowing something makes it easier to join conversations, learn new perspectives, and formulate opinions. Being informative is also a confidence booster and contributes to one’s preparedness.

It is most important for all to break through the bubble and inform themselves because current events matter. Daily events that might seem trivial have the potential to drastically change individual lives. The economic crisis, for example, seems to be leading to the end of classic American political values like small government.

Only individual citizens, vocalizing their opinions, can stop the trend. The people’s will delegates power to the government. A disengaged populace allows government to run rampant and infringe liberty. The choice is yours.

Shirah Foy is a sophomore International Entrepreneurship major.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Eleanor permalink
    May 26, 2009 2:40 PM

    Pick a newspaper, please, and help save an endangered species. My faves are The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. If the latter, skip the editorial page and the columns (except Peggy Noonan), which will only make your blood pressure rise. Re Peggy, she really has a way with words, regardless of politics. She was Reagan’s speech writer, inter alia.

  2. Laura Hamilton permalink
    May 7, 2009 10:34 AM

    Hey there Shirah, I’m delighted to read your unsurprisingly cogent and insightful article. I recommend the least difficult and most in-depth news source I’ve found: listening to National Public Radio. I spend an extra half hour (or more) snuggled under the covers while I get updates, lectures, inspirations, retrospectives, and background on the important–note the difference between urgency and importance–issues of our times. (Not merely just the day.) The reporters have time to fill in both the personal connections within the news, and also assume we don’t know all the vital backstory, so tell a richer version of the story including some dates, names and history to put the “news” into context. Have a great summer! You are having a very interesting life.

  3. May 6, 2009 11:24 PM

    Informed and educated youth is our nation’s only hope to salvage the future. Bravo Shirah!!

  4. Garrett permalink
    May 6, 2009 9:40 PM

    Another factor is the rampant sensationalism in the media. A recent example was the swine flu craze. 24 hour media coverage is not required for the flu. Stories like this cause the common man (i.e. me) to distrust major news organizations who are out to scare up ratings.

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