This weekend, I was fortunate enough to be selected to go on a camping trip with a club at my university. Hiking, pitching tents, games, making meals, and meeting new people were the main focus of the weekend adventure. It’s refreshing, however, to take some time and get to know those around us. It turns out, on this fun weekend trip, I went home satisfied knowing there are some heroes out there.
Hyperbole of the Internet
As we go through our lives, our worldviews are shaped by what we experience. Since we cannot experience everything directly, we rely on others to inform us about what is happening. Thus, the news and social media help build our worldview–whether or not it is truly accurate.
There’s no doubt that there is an extensive amount of climate change coverage out there. I see it all the time: wildfires, record-breaking heat, and infinite doom and gloom. Hopeless coverage with no advice on what we can do about it. There is actual stuff you can do about it, and actually have a sizable impact on our future.
The world is changing, but it is NOT ending. This is coming from an undergraduate studying climate science and earth systems at UC Berkeley. I regularly hear this from IPCC authors, climate researchers, and faculty who all share this view. There is still time to make a super solid impact on the future, and I would be wary about people who tell you otherwise.
As the day turned into night on our camping adventure, our conversations pivoted to deeper levels. I expressed my passion and drive for our planet, sharing classes I was taking and what I had been hearing. I was blown away to learn that others feel the same–and are working towards protecting all of us.
There were individuals right net to me who are working across the spectrum to make our electric grid more resilient. Folks who are embedding hydrogen into ground rocks as energy storage from solar and wind–completely carbon neutral. Folks who are working on the financial aspects of space exploration. A theoretical physicist who explains solar energy with absolute ease. People who are working on bringing early warning systems for disaster to underserved communities around the world.
Look For The Helpers And Heroes
As we go through our lives, there no doubt will be immense challenges. As things change, whether it is geopolitical instability, climate disaster, injustice, hunger–there are people who care.
Try to find them, if you can. Sometimes, in the background of viral videos, you can see someone quietly save the day without any attention-seeking or camera acknowledgement. Volunteers descend by the TENS OF MILLIONS in the United States (data from 2017 for USA). And, believe it or not, research shows that these 64+ million volunteers donate an average of 137 hours per year–each! That’s an unbelievable, mind-bending, world-altering 8,822,800,000 hours!!!!! Donated!!!! For free!!
They’re out there, working on great things without any media attention. With 64+ million volunteers, if they were randomly distributed in the population, roughly 1 in 5 people are volunteering for some cause. That’s phenomenal, and I can all but guarantee it will NEVER be a front-page story.
The News Bias
As University of Pennsylvania professors Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman found, “Content that evokes high-arousal positive (awe) or negative (anger or anxiety) emotions is more viral.” Focusing on The New York Times, they found that content that induced anger was much more likely to make it to the site’s “most-e-mailed” list.
In a nutshell, the internet is driven by ad revenue, which requires people to spend time on their devices. Quite literally, the entire point of most platforms is to make you look at ads.
Content that makes its viewers/readers angry, is most likely to be shared and viewed longer. So, there is a direct financial incentive to write content that makes people angry.
That means the content you see online is not neutral, ever. Unless you are buying data for research or investigation, there is a tilt that is designed to make you read and share.
So, be cautious when you are building a world based on what the internet tells you. When in doubt, look for the helpers.