“Categorizing is necessary for humans. But it becomes pathological when the category is seen as definitive, preventing people from considering the fuzziness of boundaries, let alone revising these categories.” — Nassim Nicholas Taleb
We’ve come to know where we live as much by local food movements as our schools and property values. In the last decade “buy local” has come to mean that we’re creating environmental sustainability, healthier diets, and more close-knit communities by eating the food planted by the farmers who work the same lands that support us and our grassroots economies.
Can the same be said for information, really? If we limit our inputs to what’s nearby aren’t we limiting our perspectives? If we shop locally for our news how can we generalize the broader forest from the specific trees? Our collective self-interests stick close to home. Aren’t we further compromising our own narrow focus by foresaking the interdependencies and complexities that can only form by holding our own hides up to a more inclusive global perspective?
Localizing information sounds like an open invitation to invite in what Taleb calls “the contagion” or the herd mentality that traps independent thinkers into parroting the same parochial mindsets:
“The process of having these people report in lockstep caused the dimensionality of the opinion — they converged on opinions and used the same items as causes.”
That uniformity of perspective-taking is not about one’s sourcing as it is about reporting; for our purposes this is the 24/7 news cycle. This formula is not set to increase to a 25/8 cycle no matter how dense the news flow, how rich the implications, or how clued in the recipients. Rather Taleb is suggesting a need to defy the pattern by tabling judgments; a need to ignore loops expecting to be closed in time to declare some daily distortion, fueled by the need for definitive outcomes. Filling air time is one thing. But we confuse it for filling our mental shopping carts with all the evidence we need to decide …
- guilt or innocence
- one party over another
- winners and losers
None of this defines a local information as a movement — a force for good — or even for food for thought. Localizing the information we’re fed means sourcing our news providers well enough to know their locales and to see through their own self-referential conceits, blinders, and potential conflicts of interest. Until we know where a fact was selected, when an interview was granted, or who took the time to file a FOIA, we will be taking our information sources on the same blind faith that poisons us on factory beef and processed food.
Whether our informants are networks or neighbors we need to know of the company they keep before we can build the same independent perspective we insist of our news providers. The leading bias is self-selection. Nature abhors a vacuum. Talk may be cheap and free speech may prove expensive. Vacuums are pure legend to the media will never acknowledge the existence of one. Still, that doesn’t obviate our need as researchers to cultivate a balanced media diet.
Localizing the intentions of our news providers is one place to start.