Saturday, November 13, 2010

What is fact in today's world?

Neil Postman (1931-2003)
I was helping my 12-year-old son do research for his geneology project.  His research topic was to review a ten-year period of his grandfather's life and see those events from his grandfather's perspective.  Of course this is using the phenomonological approach to communication, which I enthusiastically shared with him.  His blank stare told me everything - he didn't get it nor was it a need to know for his paper.  Anyway, in looking for references to this ten-year timeframe, my son just used the search engine Google and referenced any site that came up.  When I observed this behavior, we had a chat about fact or fiction.  His view on fact was if it was published on the internet or in a book, it was fact.  As Postman writes, "Technology imperiously commandeers our most important terminology...and redefines [it]" (1993, pp. 8) My son's definition didn't jive with my definition, and was certainly an opportunity to carefully define this terminology with him.  Whew, what a wonderfully teachable moment and a perfect segway into this topic.

Jawaharlal Nehru & Gandhi
Classmate Barbara had a wonderful perspective, "a fact is a fact until it isn't a fact".  Famous Indian statesman Jawaharlal Nehru said, "Facts are facts and will not disappear on account of your likes."   So what makes a fact a fact?  IMHO (fun CMD word) a fact is a finding that is established and proven through data points and empirical evidence; something that is in actual existence and not based simply on someone's opinion or conjecture.   What makes it continue as a fact after it is established as a fact?  Again, IMHO, a fact must be continually and objectively proven in order to retain its credibility as a fact.  What conditions have to be met before the fact is no longer a fact and, using Nehru's term, disappears?  Once again IMHO, a fact that cannot be objectively defended against challenge, is proven wrong through empirical evidence or not in actual existence any longer is not a fact.  "Outfoxed; Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism" movie pointed out the gross negligence of the media mogel in how he and his organization pushed their version of the facts in the form of commentary, then used the platform of "just the facts" to constantly blur the line between fact and personal/corporate viewpoint.  Seemingly the goal of the organization is to muddy the water of fact just enough to create doubt in the public's mind, with the goal of preventing the other side from winning.  Read more about this expose here

With regard to the possibility of creating community on the internet, I believe community is more alive than ever as the population of the world gets more comfortable with the ever-improving platform of the internet, and as socioeconomic conditions allow for a wider base of participation.  Just an example, at a halloween party 2 weeks ago, an old friend approached me and asked if I knew anyone in London.  Of course, I know a few, so answered to the affirmative.  A few more interesting minutes later, we realized that my friend in London, England and my friend standing in front of me in Redmon, WA USA shared the same sperm donor.  I believe that at no other time in history have we been able to have donor identity transparently visible to both parties, and have access to the database that allowed both of my friends to make the connection.  Of course the social network that connects us all was the final link to complete the circle of friendship and bring me into the picture.  I have enjoyed reading other's postings on how an online community has enriched their lives as well. 

Postman, Neil.  (1993).  Technopoly; The Surrender of Culture to Technology.  Vintage Books, NY.
OutFoxed; Rupert Mudocks War on Journalism

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