October 20, 2017, 9:16 am
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In the Age of Information

I SPOKE before students of Mass Communication and Journalism yesterday, and asked for a show of hands. How many of you, I asked, read today’s newspapers? Zero. How many read the newspaper yesterday? Zero. The other day? Zero.

The speaker after me asked - how many of you have Facebook? All hands went up. 

Very obviously, today’s generation use Facebook as their source of information. I have a gut feel that if they had been asked how many go to ABSCBN or GMA7 or even Rappler Online not even 1/3 of the audience would have raised their hands.

Twenty-three years ago I played host to Alvin Toffler and his wife Heidi. The Toffler Lecture, which we entitled “Powershift” after the book of the same title, was a project of Pilipinas 2020 with sponsorship from the Ayala Foundation and the E. Zobel Foundation. It brought to Manila for the first and only time in his life the author of the 1970s bestseller “Future Shock”, a book whose message I clearly remember my parents discussing over the dinner table when I was in grade school .

But it was Toffler’s book “The Third Wave” that I found most exciting to read as a member of the Filipino middle class - because the Third Wave was all about information and knowledge, a future where what mattered most was one’s ability to make sense of anything and everything that was happening around us in a manner that others couldn’t grasp or couldn’t grasp immediately. 

He who connected the dots first or saw the patterns first had a leg up over the rest. It didn’t matter if you didn’t come from a landed family (that only mattered during the First Wave) or had no access to capital (the source of power in the Second Wave). In the Third Wave you drew power and influence from the grey matter between your ears. 

The symposium I attended was about “fake news”, and I told the students listening that if in the Third Wave it was information that mattered, it was even more important that the information we plugged into our brains wasn’t fake news! The students knew the memory of their phones- and I am pretty sure they knew how big they wanted the memory to be for the different apps they were going to download. But were they aware of the size of the memory available between their ears? A memory into which one could pour an almost infinitesimal amount of data that can be retrieved almost at will, absent any mental disorder of course? 

So what data do the 20-somethings of this world plug into their memory banks? For sure it seems whatever they plug in there doesn’t come from the newspapers. No one seems to read them nowadays. Maybe a considerable amount comes from television, never mind its sound-byte nature and oftentimes shallow discourse. Worse, a greater amount seems to come from what they read online - fake news included -- and usually limited to headlines. And that’s what I find bothersome.

Fake news such as “mining causes earthquakes”, for example. 

Life as we know it isn’t as something you can put easily into boxes or paint as black and white. Analysis, careful consideration, discernment -- we need to engage in these when we confront issues big or even small, the immediate as well along term. But today’s socio-cultural and political environment seems to be all about the latest happening, the latest sound byte, the latest impulse - for which there is hardly any time for analysis or discernment. Hence the reliance on headlines which could very well be misleading. Or the penchant to forward messages or stories that were not first carefully digested. The result is dogmatic thinking, defined by someone as mistaking opinion for fact.

Should I be worried that kids today no longer read newspapers? Yes. And that’s just for starters. 

Because I think the even greater problem is that they no longer read, period.
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