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Book Review: True Enough

Any political junkie who follows my blog ought to read the book I just finished:

Manjoo, Farhad. 2008. True enough: learning to live in a post-fact society. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.

Manjoo’s thesis is that combining today’s media/internet choices with the human tendencies towards selective exposure and selective perception have created a society with competing realities. In Manjoo’s view, these competing realities are replacing a general trust in our fellow citizens with a particularized trust in “folks like us.”

This book is all diagnosis and no cure (unless that’s my selective perception operating), but Mr. Manjoo document his theories well. He uses the following stories from Right and Left to illustrate the power of “splintered reality”:

  • Swift Boat Veterans for Truth
  • 9/11 was an inside job
  • “Everyone knows” the 2004 Election was stolen
  • Lou Dobbs and the North American Union

Throughout each of these case studies, Mr. Manjoo draws on psychological studies from as far back as the 1950s. Along the way, he shares published research that explains why all of us political bloggers think the news is biased against our causes.

I found this book a compelling page turner. People who know me know that I’m huge fan of Mercedes Lackey, especially of her Elf racecar drivers and the Valdemar series. I’ve been known to stay up half the night reading her books. True Enough was that compelling for me.

Amidst the compelling gloom that facts don’t have the same power they used to when people couldn’t surround themselves in a media bubble of their choosing, I did learn a practical library lesson. Mr. Manjoo talked about the work of John Ware and Reed Williams on pages 113-118. One of the things they discovered back in the 1970s is that students linked instructor enthusiasm with lecture satisfaction. The students in this experiement were sorted into groups that received one of four lecture styles:

  • High content, high enthusisasm.
  • High content, low enthusiasm
  • Low content, high enthusiasm
  • Low content, high enthusiasm

As you might expect, the best combination was high content and high enthusiasm. BUT, the low content and high enthusiasm rately nearly as high AND rated high above high content combined with low enthusiasm.

My takeaway lesson is that in our twice monthly instruction classes, we should share our joy and curiosity about the material and not focus so much on packing as much as humanly possible into the allotted time. Our enthusiasm often dampens as a result of trying to rush from one item to the next to make sure people get everything.

If you’ve read this book or plan to read it in the future, I hope you’ll come back and comment on your experience.

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One Response

  1. One of the books I’ve been meaning to read is Cass Sunstein’s “Republic.com 2.0”. His thesis, apparently, is that the easy online availability of endless news sources hasn’t “liberated” us from the limited scope of traditional newspapers at all; rather, it has allowed us to choose news sources that merely confirm our existing stock of beliefs. The result is not a more informed electorate, but a fractured electorate with irreconcilable understandings about what the news even *is*, let alone what it means.

    While, on my latest post (http://fairbankspedestrian.wordpress.com/2009/01/20/the-perils-and-the-seduction-of-self-sorting/), I talk about the geographical sorting by ideas, people are already sorting themselves into their own ideological echo chambers through the Internet’s supposedly liberating power.

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