Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sez Who? Will WTMI Cure Gullibility?

Being bombarded with way too much information (WTMI) may help us learn to be more skeptical and ask more frequently, “Sez who?” The constant barrage of WTMI could push business and consumer information users to rely more on personal connections, develop critical judgment of sources of information, and revive relationships with trusted brands.

Gullibility is dangerous. Especially today, information and misinformation can spread like a California wildfire across the dry landscape of the public mind. Business people are no less prone to fact-free fads and fancies than general consumers. We don’t have clear criteria for judging the reliability of the information that comes to us.

A frequent lament about the changes in the media industry is that factual coverage is suffering. I read this most recently in an Ellen Goodman column in the Boston Globe. Personally, I’ve never been over-awed by the accuracy of old-line media but few would question that information and misinformation now spreads faster and farther than ever before.

Wikipedia passed and major media failed according to an Irish grad student who planted a false quote last spring on Wikipedia that got rapidly picked up and spread by major media. More recently the Paris Match got fooled by two students attending Strasbourg’s university, who won a prize (later withdrawn) for “photo journalism” artfully designed to appeal to the gullibility of the judges. Our whole nation was hoodwinked at least for a little while by the implausible story of a boy in a runaway balloon (great video – we crowded around an office computer here at the Conference Department even though the story seemed dubious).

Accurate information has always been hard to come by. That’s what makes it valuable. Today you can “Google” any subject and gain instant access to all kinds of foolishness (14,900,000 citations for “cure for cancer” in 0.17 seconds). But could the information explosion precipitate a revival of time-tested disciplines for sifting through information?

“Sez who?” is the key question. Information creditability can be judged by the source, or the source of the source. Personal experience plays a vital role. Events, for instance, are powerful because they allow people to interact face-to-face and judge their sources first hand.. With time, one comes to associate certain sources with better information. Sources that earn a reputation for high quality information can be trusted without rigorous tests of every new offering.

Trust is fundamental to effective communication. Those of us who make a living in this highly competitive field of communications need to adapt to the environment of WTMI to build trust. If you are looking for more effective ways to convey high value information, you are not alone. We’d like to hear from you.

Happy Holidays from the Conference Department!

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