Crisis Awareness: How Aware Are We? / by Ken Miguel-Cipriano

We have CNN, Al-Jazeera, the BBC, Twitter, Facebook, and RSS feeds to inform us of just about anything that's going on in the world. The level of news access from around the world to the most inane details of celebrity life may have us believing we have reached a level of hyper-awareness. Our eyes and ears have access to more data than ever before, but the exponential growth hasn't affect us proportionally. Technology keeps a blazing pace compared to how our culture adapts and evolves, and we're still adjusting to the massive influx of information. This isn't a new observation, but it's typically regarded as a detriment to our youth's adolescent development. While this may be the case, what's equally interesting is the effect that it's been having on adults and the depth of their awareness. With so much information it's easy to get burned out quickly. Speaking conservatively, news takes a minority stake in the average adult's attention. So when burn out sets in, the news is usually the last thing to be brought back into our viewing rotation. The news, much like our attention, drowns in the sea of information having little chance of impactful exposure. Now this isn't due to a decline of depth or breadth in journalism, quite the opposite actually. Rather it's exposure is suppressed by the majority stake holder of our attention, namely pop culture. Put simply, news happens passively and pop culture is generated/manufactured. This doesn't make for much competition, and allows only for the most incendiary stories to permeate and keep our attention if only for a moment.

News outlets are left with little recourse other than leveling the playing field with the most attention grabbing stories. Unfortunately, these stories only need to grab our attention and not retain it, so we're often delivered packets of emotion and hyperbole spread over graphic images. To be clear, reporting these stories isn't inherently wrong, but exclusively doing so can be detrimental to the education of the viewer. Pressing issues become nothing more than another dish in a buffet line of news. While this form of broadcasting may have been necessary to inform us more than a decade ago, when we received information from one outlet, we've since stepped out of our caves. Our new world inspires us to do more than just hunt and gather for information, we now collate and generate our own content.

Awareness, at least in the traditional sense, no longer seems to be the issue. As 21st century users we are well aware of world issues, yet a majority of us still don't take action. News of a tragedy is no longer sufficient to bring action to a cause. What are we supposed to do now that airtime isn't sufficient to help bring change? Well, the answer is pretty straightforward. Change requires action, and action requires people. This has always been the process, but in the past it all seemed to work itself out behind the curtain. Our world seemed smaller then, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Traditional methods of news should remain, but the main focus needs to shift from the storied event to the solution and those involved. To continue to cover a crisis without equal or greater coverage of the solution is tantamount to advertising a concert and forgetting to mention the time and date. It's true that knowledge is the first step to progress, but we must remember to follow it with the second step of understanding. Without understanding we're only wandering aimlessly in the dark. Knowing and understanding are too often conflated, and it's about time we all learn the difference.

Providing opportunities for positive input can be massively useful to any crisis. While the effects of a more responsible  news outlet may not be felt immediately, the structure it will provide will undoubtedly lead to a better informed user. With a better informed user we will gain better thought and creation, and that is how great solutions are formed. The culture-technology disparity is a massive feedback loop, and we're more in control than we might think. Physical technology will always lead design, but a growing emphasis of user-interface and user-experience is closing the gap. Let's recall the old adage " You are what you eat" and apply it to our discussion. Our news consumption for the last few decades is still having an influence on our news distribution now, new technology notwithstanding. A crash diet of our news consumption won't make us better. We need to require more of our news sources and ask for better information, because it affects our culture and our decisions. Better data can lead to better people.