Too much information

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The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.” Proverbs 15:14 New International Version (NIV).

Information technology has expanded rapidly from print into radio, television, and the Internet, flooding us with more information than anyone can comprehend. Caitlin Dewey, digital culture critic for The Washington Post, reported on May 18, 2015, that it could take as many as 305.5 billion pages to print the entire searchable Internet content in her article entitled, “If you could print out the whole Internet, how many pages would it be?

The rush to produce media content has shifted the editorial burden so that we must filter what we receive instead of trusting the news media to filter it for us. There is no perfect way to sift mountains of information into useful content, but this article offers some tips that researchers use to sort good information from garbage.

1. Check Multiple Sources. Reputable reporters usually publish reliable information, but everyone distorts information by receiving it incorrectly or sharing it imprecisely. Just as a wise parent always gives a teacher the benefit of the doubt when a child complains about classroom discipline, a wise news consumer always keeps an open mind about a news story’s opposing viewpoint. For example, when two national news channels report opposing sensational versions of a story, responsible researchers seek less biased reports from calm, legitimate sources that refrain from sanctimonious commentary. A good rule of thumb is that if a news report dwells more on accusations of someone’s dishonesty or impure motives than on verifiable facts and information, you may be watching a political infomercial instead of a legitimate news report.

2. Use Fact-Checking Sources. Gullible friends fill our email junk folders daily with senseless rumors and emotionally-stirring hoaxes. For example, most reports about government plans to undermine churches and American society contain reckless (dishonest?) misrepresentations and exaggerations. Even dear old “Honest Abe” Lincoln manipulated the news media unscrupulously, such as in his anonymous letter as “Rebecca” to the Sangamo Journal to discredit Illinois State Auditor James Shields with false and humiliating accusations. If the most reputable person you know passes information to you and asks you to share it, think twice about your personal verification of the information’s accuracy. Reputable journalists spend almost as much time fact-checking their sources’ stories as the time they spend conducting interviews and preparing reports. When researchers receive stories about outrageous actions or events, they often use fact-checking services like http://www.snopes.com/ or investigate video and document archives to get reliable information.

3. Use Expert Resources. Some issues or problems are too complex for untrained people to understand easily. Most lawyers have deep knowledge of certain legal subjects, but no lawyer knows everything about every topic (we cannot “do it all”). When Congress passes a new law or the United States Supreme Court rules in a prominent case, we read the legislation or court opinion, but we also consult expert commentators to help us understand complex details instead of reinventing the wheel. Likewise, if a news story or advertisement directs you to invest money or take legal action, always get a second opinion from someone with an excellent reputation as an expert in the subject. For example, national financial advisors offer game-changing ideas, but even the most acclaimed money management gurus (including some of the most popular Christian financial advisors) give unreliable and misleading information sometimes. Prominent lawyers and accountants in your community can help you test advice and recommendations to help you avoid missteps.

The information age surrounds us with data much as an ocean surrounds a castaway in a lifeboat. We can drift aimlessly with the winds and tides, but we will never get where we want to be without thoughtful effort. As this article began with King Solomon’s advice, it also concludes with this sage instruction, “With their mouths the godless destroy their neighbors, but through knowledge the righteous escape.” Proverbs 11:9 New International Version (NIV).

Jeff R. Hawkins and Jennifer J. Hawkins are Trust & Estate Specialty Board Certified Indiana Trust & Estate Lawyers and active members of the Indiana State Bar Association and National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Both lawyers are admitted to practice law in Indiana, and Jeff Hawkins is admitted to practice law in Illinois. Jeff is also a registered civil mediator, a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the Indiana Bar Foundation;  a member of the Illinois State Bar Association and the Indiana Association of Mediators; and he was the 2014-15 President of the Indiana State Bar Association.

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