信息食谱的恼人麻烦,以及布莱希特可以如何帮助你建立更好的信息素养

The Somewhat Inconvenient Truth of Information Diet and How Brecht Can Help Us

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我们现在都知道,你所阅读的信息会极大地影响你的思考。由于我们都只有有限的时间和稀缺的注意力,而信息的供应却永不会停止,「信息食谱」(information diet)这个想法自然也就在那些关心自己信息摄取的朋友那里,得到了很多共鸣。

信息食谱的基本逻辑和指引就是,从信息汪洋中挑选好的内容,只看这些好的内容,这样就可以保持信息方面的健康与愉悦。在实践中,不同的人也会有不同的精简程度:有些人变成了数字极简主义者,严格控制着自己的信息摄入量;另一些人只关心信息的质量,但却可能和那些什么信息都读的人一样「贪吃」;剩下的人,零散地分布在这两极的中间。

所以做一个「信息节食者」到底意味着什么呢?在「信息食谱」这个想法之下,实际蕴含着几个重要的假设:

  1. 我们不可能去阅读所有的信息,而且我们应该自己做选择。现在,信息的产量实在太高,远远超过了任何人可以消化的数量,所以我们别无选择,只能阅读其中的一部分。如果你不选择读什么的话,那么其他人就会帮你选择,并填满你的时间。所以还是自己选择比较好。

  2. 重要的是「优知」(better-informed)而不是全知。知道所有的信息是没有任何意义的,因为从统计的角度讲,大部分的信息都不值得去知道。相反,垃圾信息反而会干扰你的判断和思考,让你误入歧途。所以最好就是只读有营养的信息。

  3. 信息的价值(也即筛选信息的标准)是由它的质量和有用程度来决定的。

  4. 设计信息食谱就是去控制信息源。信息就像是水,好的内容来自好的信息源,如果你控制了你的信息来源,你就控制了信息的质量。

虽然这些假设都很有价值,但是它们也同时忽视了另外一些重要的元素,而这将会带来不少恼人的麻烦。

信息食谱的恼人麻烦

如果你像我一样曾经尝试过搭建信息食谱的话,那么你很可能也会发现如下一些恼人的副作用:

  1. 很难发现新的信息源。你的信息源大概率会随着你现有内容里的链接,而得到自然的增长。但你却很难发现异质性的内容,并非常容易跌入信息的「回音室」。

  2. 食谱暗示了一种对待信息的静态视角。选择信息源非常重要,但是同样重要的,是随着它们的演变去更新你的信息源。现在,管理订阅变成了一种占卜:你必须通过现在来预测未来,但这并不总是可靠。

  3. 其实,重要的也不仅仅是「优知」,我们最终应该看重的是更好的思考。为了更好的思考,你需要全面的、站在不同立场上的信息,来帮助你作出更好的决策。但一份食谱并没有给你提供评判某个单独信息的空间。食谱的基础是信任——你必须足够信任它们,才会把它们放进你的食谱,但是信任会削弱你的判断力与客观性,而这在某种程度上,抵消了收集信息的本意。

布莱希特与信息的「间离效应」(Verfremdungseffekt

布莱希特是德国戏剧大师,也是让「间离效应」这个概念为人所知的重要实践者。布莱希特在发表于1936年的一篇文章《中式表演中的间离效应》中,第一次使用了这一概念。他在文中说道,所谓间离效应就是一种表演方式,「能够防止观众非常简单地就与舞台上的角色发生共情。对演员们行动与话语的接受或拒绝,应该是一种有意识的行为,而不应该像现在这样,发生在观众的潜意识之中。」1

当舞台上的剧作和表演很精彩的时候,观众很容易就投入到剧情之中,什么都愿意相信。而所谓「间离效应」就是指一种通过观众主动和有意识的参与,来让熟悉变得再次陌生的机制。我认为,我们对信息的摄取也需要引入一种类似的机制,一种打破默认状态的方式。一条信息就像是一部剧作,其中写作就是一种表演,而我们经常会扮演一个被动观众的角色:我们阅读信息,就像是在看剧;当一个叙述在我们眼前精彩地呈现出来的时候,我们就下意识地接受了它。我们坐在那里,享受着信息。

建立一份信息食谱就像是去一个好的剧场:这当然比去那些差的剧场要好,但是如果你仍然一种被动的方式在看剧的话,那么你与那部剧的关系就不会改变。你可能感觉自己掌控了一切(毕竟是你挑选的地方),但其实你才是被操控的那个:被好的写作、好的论证所操控,更可怕的是,被好的算法所操控。

是时候拿回真正的控制权了——那个控制我们与信息之间关系的权力。我们不该再把自己阅读到的东西,当作是理所应当的;我们不该只关注内容是否合理,而应该去分辨它为什么合理以及它是如何论证的。

一次范式转换

我们需要一次范式转换。

  1. 从节食者变成采摘者。节食/食谱的比喻已经过时了:我们对何为健康饮食少有大的争议,而且一份食谱一旦根据自身需求定制完成之后,很少需要再做大的变化:健康的人就是需要这些营养,这事基本定了。食谱的关键是向内看,关注自身的需求并试图通过一个固定的方案来满足那个需求。但就信息来说,我们还需要与外部世界保持连通,并不断接收新的变化。我们不需要所有的信息,但是我们需要走出去,抓住此时此地重要的东西。这也就是为什么我认为我们应该做一个信息的采摘者。一个采摘者总是不断地关注环境,他们知道果子什么时候成熟、哪里有果树以及采摘每一种果子的最佳方式。要成为一个好的采摘者,你就必须知道,即使是同一棵树,有时也可能结出不一样的果子。

  2. 从控制转向互动。传统的信息食谱强调控制信息源的必要性,但它却很少讲到该如何与从这些信息源获得信息进行互动。其实,搭建一份好的信息源列表就是在纷杂吵闹的大世界里,创造一个富有养分的小环境,但是这并不意味着要把这些信息都放到你的餐桌上。你不应该这样使用信息。对我来说,最好的方法,就是把这些信息源看作是一座城市,然后再去 观察它的街道

  3. 从健康到强健。要保持健康,你要做的是尽量避免错误信息和虚假信息,并尽量丰富你的信息来源,就如你需要更加均衡的饮食并避免垃圾食品一样。这很不容易,但也远远不够。要成为一个强健的人,你还需要接触一些细菌和微生物——那些看上去令人不快甚至有点危险的信息,但是它们却可以训练你的系统,让你学会在看似有道理的内容之下,发现哪些是胡扯的东西

所以,下次看剧的时候,千万别只是「坐坐好」了。而作为读者,你的心比眼睛更重要。


The Somewhat Inconvenient Truth of Information Diet and How Brecht Can Help Us

As we all know by now, the information you consume matters a great deal in shaping your mind. Since we only have limited time and scarce attention while the supply never stops, the idea of an 'information diet' just resonates perfectly with those who care about their content intakes. 

The basic logic and instruction of such a diet is to handpick the good from the bad and be selective of what you read and watch, so we could all be healthier and happier. In practice, people have tuned this basics to different degrees: some have become digital minimalist, strictly controlling the amount of information they consume; others only care about the quality but can be as voracious as those who are not on a diet; and the rest sit somewhere in between. 

If the variation in practice could be so wide, what does it really mean to be an information dieter? The justification of the diet relies on some key premises:  

  1. It's impossible to read all the information and you should make your own choice. The amount of information being generated now is just far beyond human's capacity to digest, so there is actually no other way but to read only a segment of it. If you don't choose what you read, your time will be filled up by other people's choice. It's better to take control. 

  2. It's about being better-informed rather than being omniscient. To know everything is pointless, because most information are statistically not worth knowing. To the contrary, 'junk' information will make you ill-informed and misled, so it's better to just read what is nutritious. 

  3. The value of information (hence the criterion for selection) is determined by its quality and how useful it is to the reader, and reader knows how to judge the usefulness of a specific piece of information. 

  4. To control your diet is to control your source of information. Information is like water, good content comes from good source, so if you control the feed, then you control the quality of information. 

While all of the above are of critical value, they neglect, at the same time, some other key elements. And this has brought problems. 

The Problems with Information Diet

If you ever try to implement a diet on your content consumption, you'd very likely come to notice a series of inconvenient side effects very soon: 

  1. It's hard to discover new feeds. Your feeds will probably grow naturally as you continue to encounter references from your existing list, but it's hard to discover heterogeneous contents and it's very easy to fall into the echo chamber. 

  2. An diet implies a rather static perspective on information. It's important to choose your feeds, but it's equally important to update them as they grow, evolve or deteriorate. Now, managing feeds is a work of prediction: you have to judge the future by the present, but it's not always reliable. 

  3. It's not only about being better informed, ultimately it should be about better thinking. To think better, you need to have well-rounded information, information that speaks on both sides. But a diet does not provide a place for evaluation of individual piece of information. The foundation of a diet is your trust- you have to trust them enough to put them in your diet, but trust undermines your judgement and objectivity, which is offsetting the purpose of gathering information in the first place. 

Brecht and Information's Verfremdungseffekt

Bertolt Brecht is a German theater practitioner who popularized the concept of 'Verfremdungseffekt', which is also translated as the 'estrangement effect' or 'distancing effect'.

Brecht first used the term in an essay on "Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting" published in 1936, in which he described it as "playing in such a way that the audience was hindered from simply identifying itself with the characters in the play. Acceptance or rejection of their actions and utterances was meant to take place on a conscious plane, instead of, as hitherto, in the audience's subconscious"[1].

When the play and acting on stage is good, it's all too easy for the audience to just follow the plot and believe whatever they see. In short, estrangement effect refers to the device of making the familiar feel strange again by invoking active and conscious participation from the audience. I think we need a similar device for our information intake, a way to break the default. As it comes to information, we often assume the role of a passive audience: we read as if we are watching a play, we identify with the narrative as it manifests itself in front of us. We are there, and we enjoy the information.

Having an information diet is like going to a good theater: it's better than going to the bad ones, but if you still watch the play in the same passive way, your relationship with the play will not change. You feel like your are in charge, but you are actually the one being played, by the good writing, good argument, and worst of all, good algorithm.

It's time we take back the real control, the control of our relationship with information. No more should we take what we read for granted; nor should we care only if something is making sense, but discern why and how it is making sense. 

A Paradigm Shift

This calls for a paradigm shift. 

  1. From dieter to picker. The diet analogy is obsolete: there is little dispute over the constitution of a healthy diet and the recipe of such a diet doesn't need to change much over time once it's designed to fit your need; we just need to follow that diet and we will be fine. The crux of a diet is to look internally, focusing on what you need and try to fulfill that with a fixed plan. 
    But when it comes to information, we need to keep abreast of the outside world and be in the loop. We don't need all the information, but we need to be out there and seize what is valuable NOW and HERE. That's why I think we should be picker instead of dieter. A picker is watching the environment all the time, they know when the fruit is ripe, where the trees are, and the best way to pick different fruits. To be a good picker is to know that even the same tree could have fruits of different quality from time to time. 

  2. From controlling to interacting. The old information diet emphasize the need to control your feeds, but it never mentions how to interact with the information you gather from your feeds. To build a good feed list is to create a smaller nurturing environment out of this big messy world, but it's not like serving these information to your table. You don't have to eat them all even if you are a digital minimalist. But you're never supposed to interact with information that way. For me, the best way to treat your feeds is to see them as a city and observe the street

  3. From healthy to robust. To stay healthy, you need to avoid misinformation and disinformation and to diversify your information sources, like you need to eat a wide variety of foods and avoiding junk foods. It's not easy but it's also not enough. To become robust, you also need to introduce some germs, information that's unpleasant at first sight or even dangerous, but they can help you train your system to call bullshit underneath the seemingly well-grounded arguments. 

So, don't just sit tight, look for yourself! 

1

John Willett, ed. and trans., Brecht on Theatre (New York: Hill and Wang, 1964), 91.