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“Not Everybody Knows” Headline Generates Meditation on the Burdens of Disinformation

To the Editor:

Let it be known that on November 28, a new approach to journalism was born, on page 7 of the Town Topics. Though I had been waiting nearly two decades for this breakthrough, it took several readings for the importance of the headline to sink in. “Not Everybody Knows That Hospital Has Moved From Princeton to Plainsboro.” I know, it doesn’t sound like much, and my first inclination was to pass it by. Only when I re-encountered the headline, in the process of recycling, did the headline’s import sink in.

The article was about people still making the drive to the old hospital site in search of medical care. But on a broader scale, consider how many people labor under the burden of misinformation, and spend their lives driving their fevered thoughts to the wrong conclusions time and time again. Though this is considered the Information Age, it is equally the Misinformation Age, when lies go viral, replicating exponentially in nutrient-rich environments of resentment and fear. People are lost not only because they aren’t paying attention, but because they are being actively misled.

Fortunately, as the hospital article described, there is someone waiting at the old hospital site to redirect those who are lost. Additional signs directing people to the new hospital are now in place.

These steps make obvious sense, but ask yourself if the same steps have been taken to help people arrive at reality-based destinations in their thinking. Where, for instance, will people encounter, in an adequately redundant way, the basic facts about the human-caused transformations now underway that will change life on earth forever? Princeton probably contributes to the global problem of rising oceans and radicalized climate as much per capita as any other town, and yet there is precious little “signage” in news media — local or otherwise — directing us towards an understanding of the gravity of the situation.

An article in the pioneering style of “Not Everybody Knows” would give the basics about how human activity is warming the earth and acidifying the oceans, and that the many consequences — more destructive storms and droughts, coastal flooding, undermining of marine ecosystems, melting of ice caps, temperature rise — are playing out faster than scientists’ models had projected. It would say that sea rise is accelerating, with three feet likely this century, and 220 additional feet of rise still locked up in the ice fields of Greenland and Antarctica. It would say that the impacts of pouring climate-changing gases into the atmosphere, unlike with other forms of pollution, are essentially permanent, and continued dependency on fossil fuels will only destabilize climate and marine systems further.

That’s the sort of “signage” we need, posted like hospital signs in well-traveled places where people are sure to see them again and again, until the message gets through. The lack of it, the fact that one almost never encounters this information in daily living, reading, and listening without considerable search, is sending a very clear message: that it doesn’t really matter where we’re headed.

Stephen Hiltner

North Harrison Street

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