Are we ill-informed?

August 2, 2007 at 3:00 am 1 comment

06483_9.jpgDespite the staggering diversity of information on the Internet, it seems we are less informed than say 20 years ago. A recent study asked Americans several questions:

  • Who is the US vice president?
  • Who is your state’s governor?
  • Does the US have a trade deficit or surplus?
  • Which party controls the House of Representatives?
  • Is the chief justice of the Supreme Court a liberal, moderate, or conservative?
  • Who is the leader of Russia?

Apparently, if you asked the first question in 1989, you’d find that 74% of respondents knew the answer, compared with 69% today. Well, that’s a bit of a trick question actually: George Bush (aka father of George Dubya) was VP until January 1989 when he became top dog; the VP’s office was then taken up by Dan Quayle and who could forget some of his clangers and quotes. My favourite one if I remember it correctly was: “I have made good judgements in the past; I have made good judgements in the future“. So probably back in 1989, you could easily answer the question of who the VP was if the question was asked after Bush became Prez. Mind you, with the current US VP going around shooting people in a hunting accident (a quail hunt, how ironic!), I would think that Americans would be able to answer the VP question pretty well.

74% could name their State’s Governor back in 1989, compared with 66% today. I would think Arnie would be most upset if 100% of Californians couldn’t name him as The Governator. Clearly, the spectre of the Soviet Union was still fresh in people’s minds back in the late 80s, with 47% being able to name the Russian leader compared with 36% today. And those who watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report seem to score much higher than those who obtain their news from Google, Yahoo! or some other online news aggregator.

Well, regular ThinkingShift readers might suspect I’m about to utter the following: when you have a media and a population who is more obsessed with which Hollywood celebrity is in rehab or not wearing knickers, then you probably run the risk of people not knowing the important issues of our contemporary world. Ergo: a plunge in current awareness and a lower score than 1989. Now, I don’t know if the hapless respondents had time to knick off and consult Wikipedia or their local bookstore, but seems to me that there’s a decline in society’s political and civic curiosity and conscience.

But I don’t think the Americans should carry the blame totally. Let’s test out Australian ThinkingShift readers. We Australians like to think we’re pretty cosmopolitan, well-travelled and well-informed. So let’s see if we can answer these questions (and don’t rush to the Internet!):

  • which country currently has the presidency of the European Union?
  • who is the current leader of the Opposition Party in New Zealand and what party is this?
  • who is the Premier of Tasmania? (and where is Tasmania?!)
  • is New Zealand a State of Australia? (I’m a kiwi so I can joke about this :)-
  • who is our Deputy Prime Minister (and when was the last time he was spotted?)
  • who is the current Governor General of Australia?
  • who currently leads the Australian Democrats? (and what the hell has happened to that Party?)

Yes, it’s true these questions don’t involve any critical thinking or grappling with concepts, but knowledge of the answers does require a certain level of awareness and interest in politics and current events – something I think is sadly lacking these days. Remember when 60 Minutes was THE top rating show on Australian TV? Now, the top raters are Big Brother and Australia’s Next Top Model – reality drivel that mirrors the superficiality and banality of our current world. Okay, off for a lie down!


Entry filed under: News opinion.

If you skip to the ending, are you a bad person? Are humans cattle or dogs?

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