Too much info, too little time

Published 11:33 am Saturday, October 1, 2016

There is little doubt we live in the information age. From search engines to social media, words, thoughts and opinions surround us. Our entire lives are constantly being bombarded by messages from all manners of life. We can see what Kim Kardashian is thinking immediately followed by a photo shared by your next-door neighbor.

Technological advancement is generally accepted as good. The newest iPhone or the flatter, wider TV are seen as improvements; they’ll make our lives better. And sometimes they do, even if it’s just for entertainment’s sake, even if it’s for no practical reason.

And yet it’s technology that has been used to create a frenzy. Our lives are full of fear all due to the plethora of misinformation. We can see it in the current political climate. Aside from the presidential election (where inaccurate information on both mainstream candidates is being shared by the minute), the assumption of America being more unsafe than in the past is not true. In fact violent cases are down from the peak in the 1980s. The difference over the past 30-some years is that there’s no way to get away from the story. Whether it’s a link shared by nearly everyone on social media or constant commentary on the television, a singular violent event can be heard over and over again.

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As much as the Information Age has hurt politics, it’s probably health that’s taken the bigger hit. Just the other day, I saw a video on Facebook about the use of trisodium phosphate in cereals. General Mills uses it as a preservative, and therefore TSP is listed in the ingredients. The video pointed out that TSP is also used as a heavy duty cleaner and that in large qualities can be poisonous. The speaker was accurate in what he was saying, but he failed to grasp the importance of quantity. That is true no matter what the substance. Too much water or pure oxygen can be destructive to the human body.

Furthermore, it’s ability to be used as a cleaner is not a unique quality. Sodium bicarbonate is another popular cleaning ingredient, and yet anyone who has baked desserts from scratch has likely used it. It just doesn’t seem as scary when referred to as baking soda.

Because anyone with a computer can create a blog and share their opinion no matter the quality of research done beforehand, we get fuel for such movements. Some of these, such as the anti-vaxxer movement, even impact public safety.

No naturopathic home remedy website should take the place of some who spent years in medical school, and yet if you type in a search on Google, countless blog postings come up. And some of that information is scary — just like hearing trisodium phosphate is in a food meant for children.

The fact is the vaccines do carry risk, but doctors’ wouldn’t routinely recommend vaccinations if the benefits didn’t outweigh the risks. Polio, measles and all the others cause children to fight for their lives, something we haven’t had to worry about for years. The introduction of the rotavirus vaccine dramatically decreased the number of infant hospitalizations due to that common stomach virus.

The point isn’t to being the curmudgeon yelling at the kids to get off his lawn, but to realize that discernment is a much needed skill. We must learn to separate fact from fiction. Just because someone is speaking loudly doesn’t mean they are speaking correctly.

Julia Miller is the lifestyles editor at The Daily Leader.