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Journalists now write to the click count in real time. Like so many dichotomies in life and the world, it is both a result and a cause of the superficiality of much of the news these days. Sensationalism and banality are two sides of the same coin—the yin and yang of a world where the cost of knowledge has been driven to zero, and attention is the world’s scarcest commodity.
This has given rise to the “I did this for a week/month/year, and this is what happened” genre of investigative journalism. Just this morning my very popular and mainstream homepage linked to an article from Inc., entitled, “I Got Up at 3:45 A.M. Like Apple’s Tim Cook for a Year. Here is What Happened.”
Really? Why would you do that? The writer explains that she was becoming overwhelmed with tasks and obligations and is not a quitter. She was looking for solutions. Having learned of her motives, I, nonetheless, was still left with the same question: Why would you do that? And why would you do it for a year?
I honestly don’t think a Chinese person would ever consider doing this for the reasons outlined. They would be more inclined to give the idea a collective, “Huh?” Their culture and perception is built on an inductive world view, where “why” carries far less weight than it does in the deductively-minded West.
That’s not to apologize for the Chinese world view or to take anything away from the Western perspective, as I have been accused of doing recently. That, however, doesn’t change my reaction.
The logical explanation, of course, is that the worlds of knowledge and journalism have been turned on their heads by technology. Anyone can now publish a book or contribute to the public dialogue. That doesn’t mean you will be heard, however.
The public consciousness is now controlled by algorithms written in Silicon Valley rather than autocratic gatekeepers sitting in New York, but the outcome is largely the same. Despite the appearance of objectivity, an algorithm is a computational process; it is not a computation, like 2+2=4. It provides an answer, not a solution.
Franklin Foer, a national correspondent for The Atlantic and the former editor of The New Republic, has written a new book, World Without Mind : The Existential Threat of Big Tech. He has had more than a front row seat during the battle between the digital and the print world over knowledge. He has been in the fray and has the scars to prove it.
I didn’t give the book a 5-star review for reasons you will have to read my review to understand, but I do think this is a book that everyone should read. He adroitly explains why people write articles in the “Here is what happened” genre and the reasons why all sources of news increasingly mimic the tabloids. My favorite example is: “9 out of 10 Americans Are Completely Wrong About This Mind-Blowing Fact,” as the headline to an article about income inequality.
The article about getting up so absurdly early was witty, well written, and fun to read. And, in the end, it was deductive. There was ultimately reference to the connection between sleep and the stress hormone cortisol, which a Chinese reader would probably not have seen coming.
The author concludes with the deduction that, “Working hard and suffering are not the same thing, and I, for one, plan never to confuse the two again.” It’s sound logic that I don’t need to read twice to take to heart.
The sensationalism of journalism, of course, isn’t a curse of deductive thinking per se. Deduction is the rational foundation of the scientific method. And the author’s deductive approach, in this case, did cause me to click and ultimately enjoy the article.
It is ironic, nonetheless, that deductive investigation can lead, in the extreme, to inductive silliness. Inductive thinkers, like the Chinese, can indeed be silly in the extreme. They are, however, blatantly silly. They are silly for the sake of silly; not for the sake of gaining insight.
An inductive world view is a quest for results. A deductive world view is a quest for explanations. Both have their place. As I advocate in all of the books in the Understanding Series, the key to a successful career and life of purpose is balance between the two.
And whichever world view dominates your thinking, a recognition that it ultimately makes sense to get enough sleep.
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