2020 – a new year, combined with a new decade. For some, it brings a newfound (and likely short-lived) determination to do more exercise/healthy eating/relaxation, cut back on any or all of the usual excesses, or both. January also heralds a period of introspection, coupled with a raft of "resolutions". Column inches are meanwhile filled with "predictions" for the coming year.
This year, bush fires in Australia, Brexit, political confrontations in many parts of the world and climate change have brought the precarious nature of our wellbeing to the forefront. Globalisation and technology have brought many benefits, streamlining everything from payments to home heating. The modern workplace is barely recognisable from that of only a generation ago.
However, as we grapple with autonomous cars, biometric identification and artificial intelligence algorithms predicting everything from our shopping preferences or propensity for committing crime to our political persuasion, there is a more "traditional" value which I think needs clawing back from the digital matrix.
It is critical thought. We seem to be gradually losing the natural tendency to challenge what we are told, or see. We do not often delve beyond the surface, or ask more than a token question by way of challenge. Is this simply a result of the moniker "fake news" being pushed at everything that people disagree with? Is it a consequence of our feeds being diverted towards stories that we "favour" (whether consciously or otherwise) and thus want to believe? Or is it more deeply rooted – do we simply not have the time or inclination to critically evaluate a piece of news, because there are too many status updates, emails, memes and messages to keep track of?
Whether it was coverage of the Brexit debates, climate change, the Trump impeachment hearings or the recent UK elections, one common theme struck me as odd. It does not seem to matter how much factual truths are ever discussed or debated. Propositions or unsubstantiated viewpoints are rife, showered like confetti across message-boards and websites across the world. Anything which is disagreeable or uncomfortable is dismissed as "fake news", even if it is patently anything but.
A formerly critical media seems more likely to accept the soundbite and move on to the next item, leaving the reader to struggle to evaluate what is being fed to them. The proponent of the viewpoint merely continues repeating the point, safe in the knowledge that if it is repeated often enough and widely enough, it becomes equivalent to the truth. There are exceptions (listen to James O' Brien on LBC, for example), but they have become popular and notorious for being exceptional.
We are equally guilty. We should be doing more to challenge the "accepted wisdom", push for a better answer than "fake news" and ask more probing questions. We should not just accept the status quo, should get involved where regulatory or legislative consultations are issued, and recognise that healthy debate is a bedrock of a strong legal system.
Island-wide voting beckons in 2020, and with uncertainties remaining around Brexit and continuing pressure on offshore centres, critically evaluating the direction of travel is key to keeping us unique on the global stage. Maybe that should be the "resolution" for 2020.
First published by Connect, February 2020
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