A call for media literacy: What does a mentally obese world look like? A lot like the one you live in. Here’s why.
We live in an increasingly complex world. More of a data-driven world. A world that, more and more, rewards those who are media literate and can robustly utilize and metabolize the information they consume (like financial workers, software developers, data collection firms, inventors, information marketers) by giving them insight and strategies to achieve wealth, control and power.
Look at Facebook. At its heart, it is nothing more than a database (with a lot of information about you) and a valuation in the billions. iTunes is music and media to the average consumer, but to Apple and its profits, it’s managing your bits and bytes of data (and collecting information to allow intimate targeting).
And there’s the rest of us in this new data world. Many of us are poor information users, because we’re also poor (non-media-literate) information consumers. We take in a lot of information. Music. Reality TV. Opinion Shows. Video Games. Sports programming. A lot of information for pure, passive enjoyment. No strong media literacy skills to metabolize this data into something useful. If you think of media like this similar to eating delicious junk food, you can understand how a diet of this information can build up a lot of tactically useless information that you really can’t use or metabolize productive use for in day-to-day life.
We’re “fat.” Full of information we can’t use. To the point we don’t have the mental muscle developed like those who can robustly metabolize information to solve complex problems. In my book Does This News Make Me Look Fat?, I call these people “mentally obese.”
What does the world of the mentally obese look like?
Those of us who lack the ability to collect, digest and utilize information effectively may find ourselves up against a society that preys on our bank accounts and life goals. An attack not through a gun or brute force but by simply taking advantage of our lack of knowledge about an issue. For instance, the subtle legal clause we ignored in the boilerplate text of a credit card offer because we are too focused on the seductive teaser rate. Or scaring people to act blindly or on corrupted reasoning fueled by a diet of character based, emotional yet fact-lite messages. Like the character Othello who killed his loyal wife Desdemona, based on calculated insinuations of infidelity from an aide, we can be turned to act against the very things that actually want.
We live in a civilized society. So the weak aren’t killed or eaten. But the mentally obese can be more vulnerable to having someone with an emotionally compelling story get us to pay more for items, back policies that run opposite to our beliefs or fear events at a level far out of proportion to their likelihood of occurrence. An odd Mobius loop where we fear the unknown with a media diet that’s helping us accumulate unknowns.