How to Be a Smart Consumer of Information

April 4, 2013

Photo by heathbrandon, via flickr

As Americans, we buy stuff all the time. Most of us compare the features and prices of the products we purchase before letting go of our hard-earned dollars. But do we comparison shop and evaluate the “features” of the information we consume every day? Here are a few tips (and some caveats) on how to be a smart information consumer.

Don’t believe everything you read
We’ve probably heard this from our parents, but we need to practice it. Just because something is on the Internet, on TV, or in the newspaper doesn’t mean it’s valid. This is especially true now that it’s relatively easy for anyone to have their “news” published online.

Consider the source
Where was the information originally published? As the media industry has consolidated over the last decade, a lot of content printed in local newspapers and aired on your evening news program is from somewhere else. What do you know about the source? Who owns the original content? Keep in mind that the source of the information is a business after all, and as such, they are selling you a product. Is it something you want to buy?

Compare different “channels” for competing views on the issue
Whether you’re watching TV, reading a newspaper in print, or reviewing information on your tablet or smart phone, you may want to see what others are saying about the topic. You might be surprised at how differently the subject is covered by different media outlets. The Internet makes this very easy to do, but always remember the first caveat: Don’t believe everything you read.

Do your research
One of the more recent trends in media is for foundations and so-called think tanks to publish “news.” Again, here’s where the Internet is useful. Find out who is funding a particular foundation or think tank. Do you share their world view? Do you know any of the people who sit on the board of the foundation or think tank? Do they have agenda? What are they selling?

Use perspective
As humans, we are highly motivated by our emotions. Advertisers, entertainers, and politicians know this. Is the information you are consuming pushing your hot buttons? If so, and you’ve considered the source, compared differing viewpoints, and done your research, maybe it’s time to step away and not think about the information for a while. There is value to unplugging and being “off the grid” because it puts things into perspective and allows us to evaluate what is really important in our lives.

Become a critical thinker
If you adopt these practices, you will have all the tools you need to be a smart consumer of information.

What do you think? Did I miss anything? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.