Expectations of Information Consumption

Sitting in my seat aboard a Boeing 737 from Seattle to Denver, I carefully opened my small bag of lightly salted peanuts. After securing a comfortably sized opening in the bag, I poured three nuts into the palm of my free hand when I thought to myself, why do I add the process of pouring peanuts into my hand before moving them into my mouth?

With a body mass index of 19.5, I don’t eat a lot of food for a typical American. With sometimes reading as many as 800 news articles in a single day, I think that I read a lot of news compared to the average American. I’m an expert at picking the foods that I think that I’ll like based on my expectations of appearance and food source, just like I’m an expert at picking the news articles that I want to read based on key words in article titles and the source of said articles. My expectations for both food picking and information picking have a lot of similarities. Both activities are governed by my emotions and by my self-defined rules for what is and is not acceptable.

I know how much of something I want to consume and what flavors or on what topics I want to consume. Both are based on my feelings and willingness to become satisfied.

Fundamentally, I’m sensitive to quality. I expect that the food that I eat and the news that I read are of “high” quality. Everyone has their own sense of quality. Some people base their notions of food quality on how cheap it costs in comparison to how filling it is, irrespective of its source or the process for which it was turned into a sellable product. Some people are willing to spend more money because they are careful and knowledgeable about any given aspect of a food system.

On the Internet, information flows more freely than water streaming from a hose. People have created relatively effective tools at filtering in or out information based on all kinds of criteria. Even when information is filtered, by either the information producer, sharer, reseller, or consumer, I have my own internal filter based on short-term emotions and long-term expectations.

While roaming Whole Foods Market, I am relaxed there because I place a lot of trust in the products that they’re selling or reselling. I don’t feel like I have to worry about that quality of content of the food because WFM doesn’t sell products that contain specific ingredients that I strategically avoid. When I go to Safeway, QFC, Fred Meyers, or Metropolitan Market, however, I have to look at every ingredient list to make a judgment call on whether or not the quality meets my expectations. In other words, I’m much more skeptical about the products that I consume at the places where food providers don’t appear to align with my paradigm for healthy food consumption.

I grocery shop at Whole Foods Market because of their biases. I don’t appreciate the use of chemicals, pesticides, or genetically modified organisms in food, and neither does WFM, so they don’t sell or resell that stuff to me.

I also watch Democracy Now! every weekday morning. Democracy Now! has biases against profit-motivated and power-grabbing news reporting.

I’ve starved before. During risky and dire living situations, I’ve lowered my standards–my internal security precautions–because something outweighed any given risk about the food that I ate, because I didn’t have enough.

On occasion, I’ll come across a news article with part of its primary information being the same as an ongoing story and part of its primary information being a brand new development. The last one that I have a vivid, emotional remembrance of is a Bloomberg article that purports that the NSA had been actively exploiting the OpenSSL Heartbleed bug for almost as long as the bug was introduced into the software package.

Being critically sensitive to the quality of information in any given news article, with my own set of tools to strategically apply qualitative and quantitative reasoning to better understand, I called bullshit on this particular Bloomberg ‘truth’ story. However, and even immediately after reading the article for the first time, I wanted it to be true. It made perfect sense, and I wanted another reason to stop the NSAs practices of unconstitutional, mass spying. And apparently so did a lot of other people on Twitter as the information spread like wildfire. The primary information about the NSAs operations was so rare that people acted like they were starving–like they had just eaten the only thing they could put into their stomachs.

I eventually figured that I poured the peanuts into my free hand as a form of control. I don’t want to eat too much, too little, or possibly make a mess in the process.

Consuming information follows some of the same patterns of eating. People are willing to accept a consumable simply based on paradigm alignment, which, in turn, becomes a subjective measurement of quality.

The Food and Drug Administration developed the the organic food certification in attempts to create a baseline for what is and is not acceptable when it comes to organically grown food. The organic certification process is thorough and it costs a lot of money to get verified, and people pay money for that level of trust.

The information available in the form of news articles has adapted itself based on legacy media, such as newspapers and magazines. One of the substantial differences between legacy media and digital media is the sheer amount of diversity that someone can expose themselves too, meaning that the risk of misplaced trust could happen easier and more often, especially with highly-polarized and highly-biased information structures. We need to develop better tools and better knowledge about the information that we consume, because information poisoning is something that we can develop a sense for to avoid. No one who consumes a balanced diet needs a reminder not to eat a moldy peanut.