The Well-worn Narrative Flywheel

Speed and efficiency are usually thought of as great things. As two measures that improve outcomes and increase optimization. Yet, often, we are moving so quickly that we fail to stop and think about the costs associated with speed and efficiency.

One such cost is being born day in and day out in the news media we consume. It is the cost of anti-intellectualism, or the inadvertent decision that insights, theories, and truth are inferior to speed and efficiency.

We have no one to blame but ourselves. This is the system we have built. We have constructed the incentives. We have abided by the rules.

In this structure, there is no great reward for speaking truth.

The truth is complicated.
The truth takes time to sort out.
The truth doesn’t neatly shine through the lenses through which we view the world.
The truth causes consternation.
The truth is attacked.
The truth is hard to measure.

Therefore, instead, we have set up an incentive system that is faster and more efficient than the system that would be needed to seek out the facts.

We have resorted to what is easy to measure – clicks, likes, followers, views. We have opted to optimize around these measures, seeking to become ever more efficient in maximizing them in harmony.

This system works like a flywheel.

Consumers want content that is easy to digest, easy to share, fun, and most of all convenient.

Under the pressure imposed by consumer’s, ratings, and tight deadlines, traditional media outlets rally around the well-worn narrative. The sound bit. The information that fits the worldview of the outlets most loyal consumers. It rallies around a focus on personal conflict, at the expense of the taking the time to understand the merits of both sides of the narrative.

The well-worn narrative gets repeated over and over again until it eventually becomes a hard particle of reality.

In turn, consumers, being busy and short on time, welcome the well-worn narrative. Its quick and easy to digest. And we are in such a hurry, these well-worn narratives lodge a place in our brains, without us ever stopping to question them.

Ultimately, it’s easier on everyone.

The problem with the flywheel of the well-worn narrative is the weight that it adds. This weight stresses and strains the truth and underneath it, the facts get lost. They get ignored.

It is the absence of agreement on the facts that puts each well-worn narrative on equal footing. Eliminating the possibility of learning, thoughtful reasoning, and an eco-system that facilitates the asking of thoughtful questions.

The only way to stop a flywheel is to throw a ratchet in it. However, this is harder than it sounds. It takes courage. It takes momentum. It takes the masses. It takes time.

Maybe the first step is the recognition that fast isn’t always better. Easy isn’t always preferred.

Simple isn’t always the best.