This is sobering stuff and a brilliant piece of writing by Chris Kenny that pretty much crystallises, confirms and distils what we already know and understand both, empirically and intuitively. It afflicts many in this techy, wired and connected world where information is abundant but knowledge is scarce. Even the dumb kids had a passing familiarity with the basics such as these fifty years ago. How many kids today would fare well in a spelling bee in 2018, I wonder? Politicians glued to screens ignore public clamour
“..we consume information in digital silos rather than share it via curated programs, publications and courses. Social media is anti-social. We were given an insight into this through an article by the editor of the Murray Pioneer (incidentally, my first paper) in South Australia’s Riverland. Paul Mitchell went public with his dismay at the performance of journalism applicants in his general knowledge quiz, and the story attracted national attention.
These young people looking to get a start on a country newspaper are often some of the brightest kids around — they need excellent Year 12 grades to get into their university courses — and Mitchell was astounded that only one of his six interviewees could name the federal Treasurer and only one named the Opposition Leader. They were applying for jobs reporting news in the Riverland, yet not one could identify the federal electorate covering the region. They did better on who represented Australia at the Eurovision song contest and how to spell Meghan Markle’s name. Sure, youth and naivety go hand in hand, but Mitchell notes the general knowledge trendline is heading south”
“….Our politicians get caught up in machinations over leadership deals or quotas for female candidates, horse trading over the national energy guarantee and diplomacy around a UN migration agreement but fail to act decisively on recruiting plausible grassroots candidates, fostering cheap energy generation or locking in strong border protection.
Mainstream voters are caught up in their little worlds too, of course. But these worlds involve things that matter — mortgage rates, housing affordability, electricity bills, education standards, wage growth and job security. These are the basics that politicians seem uninterested in.
It is difficult for politicians because the noisiest voters are the least representative. Whereas the lunatic fringe was once truly on the fringe, it now can dominate debate on social media, influence mainstream media and exercise direct lobbying power through online campaigns. Politicians listen to this noise at their peril because the activists often know little and believe less, and their numbers are much lower than their online amplification suggests.
At the anti-Trump demonstrations in London this month, many protesters asked by journalists to explain their grievances could offer only incoherent rambling. It was the vibe of the thing. The same for Australian protesters against Lauren Southern. Former NSW premier Mike Baird’s supporters still cite social media responses to argue he was right to ban greyhound racing, even though in the real world it was obviously seen as extreme and unfair.
One of the reasons the Turnbull government is in so much strife with the My Health Record scheme is that it failed to comprehend such a move required an open and honest national discussion. You can’t just slip something like this into action and expect social media acceptance to carry the day”