I recently watched The Social Dilemma and, although it contained information I was mostly already aware of, it generated new insights I've been struggling to articulate. I've intellectualized those insights by systemizing a process to combat the deeply engrained habits we've formed around acquiring information. I call this process Active Analysis.
Active Analysis is the process by which one proactively seeks out information rather than passively ingesting information from an algorithmically generated source.
In the current Attention Economy, the Facebooks, Instagrams, YouTubes, Twitters, TikToks, and you-name-it social platforms are competing for our attention. Why? Because our attention drives engagement which, in turn, drives ad revenue and, therefore, profit. America is a capitalist-driven country where profits triumph over all other priorities. Corporate behemoths are beholden to their shareholders to make money. And if Social Platform A doesn't spend every waking moment curating its algorithms to garner your attention, then Social Platform B will. So maybe it doesn't matter if that content is even true so long as it confirms our bias, opinion, or belief. Because, for every individual bias, opinion, or belief, there is a seemingly credible source of information that will confirm that bias, opinion, or belief.
For every individual bias, opinion, or belief, there is a seemingly credible source of information that will confirm that bias, opinion, or belief.
This has led to an epistemological crisis, creating a massive rift in how we view the validity of information — that is, how we perceive the objective truth. Gone are the days of fact-checking (what are your sources!?) and published retractions from reputable sources. This is the Internet, dammit! Everything is true! Walter Cronkite — coined "the most trusted man in America" — is no longer the source of trusted news. We're no longer operating on the same plane of truth, wielding our own versions of the truth as if we’re living in parallel versions of reality.
You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Eventually it hit me: Why not insulate myself from these algorithms and, instead, seek out the information I want to obtain? I don't need to stay a passive bystander to the degradation of objective and critical thinking. I have a choice, and I choose to actively analyze information by seeking out credible sources, contrasting to alternate viewpoints, and extracting digestible parts to improve my knowledge base.
Here are three tactics I’ve developed in my Active Analysis strategy:
- Actively curate content to build intentional habits. This means seeking out answers to questions I pose myself, subscribing to specific newsletters, RSS feeds, and publications that I manually select. I don’t let the algorithm dictate my viewport, which means I can objectively evaluate the validity of each source.
- Filter information through a verification and analysis process. I save articles into a database in Notion, where I can then process by reading, tagging, highlighting, and distilling the information into another Notion database I use as for collecting and synthesizing these sources into topics I aim to learn more about.
- Dig deeper to uncover alternate viewpoints and contrast them against my own biases. I refuse to fall victim to feeding my own bias and mental models without opposition, which deepens empathy and understanding of the overall topic.
If we do not have the capacity to distinguish what’s true from what’s false, then by definition the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work. And by definition our democracy doesn’t work. Barack Obama