The search for certainty

We all want it and the reality is we can’t always get it. The absolute conviction that forecast events will occur, that something is the case or that predicted outcomes will be reached.

Certainty is a component of our everyday lives.  We encounter certainty with contracts, wedding rings, solving crimes beyond reasonable doubt, cause analysis, financial speculation, “googling” and much more. Remember the days of getting public transport and ‘winging it’. Now I check the real time ETA every few minutes! Or those days when we said we would meet a friend at midday – and we met them then and there, no multiple text influx at 30 second intervals.

Society has become obsessed with rationalisation and the ability to predict and control outcomes. What happens when we face uncertainty? Society is in disarray… confusion and frustration prevail.

Question mark

Why don’t we know the answer?

In the case of flight MH370, uncertainty threw even the most powerful and resourced nations into a tail spin with over 26 countries committing to the biggest search and rescue operation over the past century.  The conversations I  read and heard appeared to centre around uncertainty and the frustration of ‘not knowing’.  WHERE is the plane? WHY can’t we find out? WHY can’t technology give us the answer? I think we need to look at the statistics in perspective.  There are approximately 18 million flights p.a and this is the only flight that has vanished in modern aviation history (~1903) – we are all familiar with a margin of error.

When a new disease is discovered and treatment is uncertain, again we have citizens begging medical practitioners for answers.  WHY don’t you know what caused this? WHY don’t you know how to cure it?

Recently scientists discovered a new galaxy.  A whole new planetary system that we had no clue about before….WHY did we not know about this earlier?

Uncertainty is deemed unacceptable

Uncertainty is the opposite and equally valid notion of certainty and society ought to embrace it if its actors stand any chance of progress. A few examples of events that have had major impacts on society that weren’t able to be ‘controlled’.

  • Global Financial Crisis and other economic disasters
  • Natural disasters
  • Disease
  • Unforeseen tragedies
  • Unsolved crimes

Adapt and embrace

I believe the only exception to the rule (and there is always one!) is the determination by police to solve a crime beyond reasonable doubt for years after the crime has occurred to ensure justice is served.  For example, the case of Daniel Morcombe, a ten year old boy who disappeared over a decade ago whose killer has finally been prosecuted.

It’s no secret that certainty about income, for example, can be necessary to one’s lifestyle.  When you drill down is it really? There is always welfare if you needed to maintain material subsistence, provided you had exhausted all avenues in your quest ‘to earn a quid’.  What if you adapted to a less expensive lifestyle and resorted to a job that perhaps paid less?

I’m personally making a special effort to ‘go with the flow’ and avoid predicting and controlling outcomes on a daily basis.  Something many of you may be familiar with – life ain’t black and white as they say! We need to embrace the grey area.

After all, are we really locked in to anything? We can say with certainty we will execute the deliverables of a contract, be with someone forever or believe it unlikely to contract a particular disease.  But the truth is – we don’t know, and nor should we.

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The voice of the media

Media. Mass communication.  A powerful vehicle to deliver messages to the masses quickly. Arguably one of the most powerful influences on society, vital in developing societal norms. Second only to the Government, which has the power to dictate media activity, or at least we are led to believe it does.

In the Australian media recently we have seen a few examples of the power of our media outlets. At what point does their quest for quality coverage cross the line? Below are a few productive and not so productive outputs of the media from a social perspective.

Solving crime

Distributing information and images / footage that may lead to a rapid arrest of a criminal or person of interest, enhanced recently through the use of social media by the police.  This is in our favour as we want to ensure a functional society, eradicating anti social behaviour as quickly as possible.

Driving community sanctioned rules which in turn shape Government laws

The media heavily influences public perception of the effectiveness of Government. The new 1:30am lock out and 3am last drinks laws were primarily fuelled by community outcry over the continued hospitalisation and in some cases death of young children, the victims of callous drunken attacks.  Government acted swiftly to pacify the community that ‘something would be done’ – a campaign which the community would never have known about without extensive media coverage.

Education

Media coverage enables us to understand and read about challenges and achievements experienced by members of society beyond our own location.  Its great to hear what may be happening in the world of our domestic and International counterparts and where we can obtain learnings.

At the end of various articles I find it quite useful to see relevant contact points e.g. an article on Cancer call Cancer Council Helpline.  An article relating to mental illness try Lifeline etc.

Driving forward a progressive society focused on marriage equality is another role of the media.

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Wasted resources

There has been that much media coverage on the Corby case the past decade I think we could have educated every Australian on human rights atrocities the world over by now.  Is this of value to us as society? Perhaps as a deterrent, which wouldn’t require a decade of media coverage.  The implications of ‘excessive Corby coverage’ has been far reaching with the Indonesian Government threatening to revoke Corby’s parole and The Australian Federal Police raiding the offices for information on a potential interview deal.

Publicity

Marketers are familiar with the value unpaid media exposure gives their product due to its vast reach and timeliness of message distribution. This in turn has the counter effect of negative publicity which can be damaging to a brand and business.  For example, the recent Qantas redundancy coverage.  Yes Alan Joyce could have made different business decisions earlier and Qantas may be in good shape today but life is full of could have, should have, would have but didn’t.  While some industries experience challenges based on the evolution of society e.g. car manufacturers others experience dramatic growth e.g. technology firms.

Negativity

The vast majority of media articles are negative e.g. about crime, misfortune etc.  How does this impact society? What are the implications of all this negativity? Is it possible to become tunnel visioned? thinking we are living in a crime filled society when in fact the stories we read represent only a small percentage of the activities of Australians.

We recently saw the exposure of the suicide of Charlotte Dawson.  A media personality renowned for a very public battle with depression.  Up until very recently media outlets did not publicise suicides for fear of suicide contagion. I assume this change the past year or so is in aid of mental illness to drive greater awareness and to publish the support services available.

Bias / Credibility

Can journalists disclose ‘the truth’ about anyone who is a major shareholder / owner / sponsor / regulatory authority (e.g. Government) or do they adopt a second set of principles to remain loyal and to keep financial incentives in tact? Are all messages from qualified sources?

Communist societies control messages so as not to distort desired public opinion for example, North Korea.  Is this beneficial to society? Should we be grateful for the freedom of speech we see from our writers today?

What next?

Mass media has a powerful voice – the key is how you use that voice and who determines what messages are most productive for society. Perhaps the answer is better ethics training for all journalists as it appears they are the key determinants for the mass communication received by society which in turn shapes our decisions.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-24/mcdonell-media-frenzy-descends-on-mh370-mystery/5340242

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/latest-news/new-laws-may-allow-filming-in-nsw-courts/story-fn3dxiwe-1226864315601