Ideas and imagination…unfettered.



As the old adage goes, ignorance is bliss. Now, a lot of people take issue with this as it seems to promote the eschewing of knowledge and the embracing of, well, ignorance. Ignorance is a word with heavy connotations. Poor word. I am not suggesting we begin to dumb down our intellectual libraries and wander slack-jawed through life. I am, however, becoming concerned about the amount of “information” we are bombarded with on a minute-by-minute basis and the overall effect that deluge is having on us collectively and individually.

Social media is amazing for connecting with people who may be friends or family, near and far; fostering political, artistic and many other networks where we can share experiences, ideas, or just photos. It’s also a platform where unvetted, uncorroborated assertions can fly like snowflakes in a Prairie blizzard. This can be annoying at the very least and panic inducing at the very worst.

Thanks to various venues of social media, a whisper can turn into a scream at an alarming rate. Memes can be created in a heartbeat with a minimum of information designed to impart a message. These can be simple little humourous blurbs, little chestnuts on how to live life more fully; they can also contain inciting “information” that may not be true but grabs people’s attention in the most basically visceral way: emotionally.

A wave of pandemics is preparing to invade like battalions of viral Visigoths about to storm the ramparts of your immune system.

Take, for example, food. Many of us are concerned about genetically modified food and how that may affect our bodies. We’re concerned about where out food supply is coming from and several other issues. Another is health. Depending on who you follow on social, what you choose to believe and where you get your information, you’d think a wave of pandemics is preparing to invade like battalions of viral Visigoths about to storm the ramparts of your immune system.

What is the line between information sharing and fear mongering?

tmi_logo_rgb_300_dpiI have seen threads on both of these topics spin out of control over the past few years. As someone who tries to stay close to facts and not conjecture, even I have been thrown off balance and have had my panic button pressed a few times. This begs the questions: what is the line between information sharing and fear mongering?

Remember, if you will, the H1N1 hysteria of few years ago. The back-and-forth about inoculation was dizzying. The panic about whether people are dying from the flu shot or subjecting their children to a host of horrible risks was mind-boggling. This, coupled with the onslaught of talk on traditional media, and many people were paralyzed with fear. Not a good thing in the face of a potential crisis.

As someone who has been inoculated against just about everything since I was a child, I was even feeling the emotional brunt. Intellectually, I know that there are far more benefits to inoculation than not. I have never developed polio, rubella, TB, hepatitis A or B or any of the other diseases I have taken it on the arm for. As well I have never grown tumours, eyes on stalks or a hump on my back as a side effect of said inoculations.

Rules of thumb: ask questions, get the science, and talk to an expert.

H1N1I remember going to my doctor with a sick feeling in my stomach over getting an H1N1 shot. I was nervous. Suddenly my logical side was usurped by my emotional self who was convincing the rest of my brain that terrible things would befall me moments after getting the shot. So, I did something radical: I asked my doctor for the facts. He had taken the shot, his children and wife had taken the shot and all was well. He happens to be married to the head of immunology at one of Toronto’s major hospitals and is privy to all sorts of relevant information. He also reminded me that I had been in a couple of years earlier for some shots without any anxiety; this was the same basic mix, only the antigen was different. I got the shot and lived to tell.

I have had the same situation with food where I’ve wondered about the carrot I’m eating or the lining of a can I got my mixed beans and feeling anxious about the potential harm that could result. Maybe it would be better to go off food. Yes, anorexia would be the best course of action. Oh wait a minute. And let us not forget the imminent peanut death that lurks around every corner in every schoolyard. Fact or fear mongering?

Information is good. Education is great. Being informed gives us power and helps us make choices we deem are good for us. However, too much information, information lacking empirical data, citations or science can be destructive. There is a point where we are responsible for getting the real story and not relying on the conjecture or opinions of others on social media to dictate our basic life choices.

Rules of thumb: ask questions, get the science, and talk to an expert. Just because someone is your friend on Facebook or Twitter doesn’t necessarily mean they are a reliable source of fact-based information—or that they are looking out for your best interests. That’s your responsibility.

photo credit: sladner2

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