My favorite story as a kid was the tale of the Blind men and the elephant. If you have never heard it, let me give you the skinny. A king beloved by his subjects for his wisdom asked six blind men to determine what an elephant looks like by feeling different parts of the animal’s body.
The blind man who felt the leg of the beast said an elephant is like the trunk of a tree; the one who felt the tail said an elephant is like a snake; the one who felt the trunk said an elephant is like a tree branch; the one who felt the ear said an elephant is like a hand fan; the one who felt the belly said an elephant is like a wall; and the one who felt the tusk said an elephant is like a solid pipe.
The wise King explained to the blind men that they were all right and wrong at the same time because their opinions were informed by touching different parts of the elephant. The story, of course, is a neat way of conveying the fact that our subjective opinions and prejudices colour the way we see the world.
Working as a professional journalist the last five years – and being a news consumer for as long as I could read – I have learnt that people gravitate towards the news stories/content that reinforces their worldview. This used to be harder to do back in the day when there were three or so newspapers around in Kenya but with the multiplicity of news outlets it’s become a lot easier .
This is the future you see and Twitter, Facebook and citizen journalism are in vogue. The vagaries of these new platforms and outlets mean that you follow/befriend/read/subscribe to (delete as appropriate) who/what you want. Choice is the name of the game. The result, though, is there is a hardening of opinions because people only get to see the world the way they want to see it.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that we’re all deluding ourselves on purpose. Not at all. What I mean is our new world of “choice” with its specialized news websites and blogs has made it possible for us to consume the news without ever being confronted with opinions we don’t agree with. It’s made it possible for us to exist in news echo chambers in which we only get exposed to the points of view that mirror our own.
To avoid falling into the custom-made news trap, we have to constantly ensure that we challenge ourselves to look beyond our digital comfort zones. If we don’t we’ll be no different from the blind men of the story. Comforted by our subjective view of the world but unaware of other truths and realities that are different from our own but just as worthy.