Sunday, August 3, 2008

True Enough: Learing to Live in a Post-Fact Society

"True Enough" by Farhad Manjoo, is another in the long line of books that argues that new technologies are changing the way we approach knowledge. Manjoo's contention is that the new media has made it much easier for people to selectively choose what information they process. This allows them to develop their own versions of the truth which are essentially impervious to any outside information. It's an interesting argument, but he does a pretty poor job of actually supporting it.

Manjoo provides lots of case studies ranging from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, to 9/11 Deniers, to those who think that the 2004 presidential election was fixed. In themselves, these case studies are pretty interesting, but he never really convinces me that any of this is essentially different than what preceded the new media. He asserts that the right-wing talk network is different from what preceded it, but provides little in specific proof. Father Coughlin in the 1930s had his own little right-wing network. He compares the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists with the 2004 election conspiracy theorists, but never really shows the difference between the two.

I'm skeptical that Manjoo can ever make his case -- I firmly think that the whole apocalyptic approach to new media is overblown and alarmist. Still, I'm open to the idea that it might be the case. But the author never really makes the necessary logical connections. He provides lots of specific information and he makes lots of interesting assertions, but if you examine the text closely, he never actually links the two together in any meaningful way. Given the author's presumed defense of some sort of objective truth and logic, this is a rather startling oversight.

There are some pretty broad assertions in the book that took me aback as well. He argues that conservatives are more prone to filter out information that contradicts their ideological mindset more than progressives. Now don't get me wrong here, I'm a progressive. But I've known plenty of fellow leftists who are as dogmatic and closed-minded as any conservative. I've also known some pretty open-minded conservatives. He cites one university study as proof. In the end, I think True Enough is as "true enough" as some of the items he tackles in the book.

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