Monday, 1 September 2014

News Story Fatigue and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Most people probably haven't noticed that the title of my blog (not this posting) is MyMusings.  I've named it this for a very good reason and this most recent posting is the epitome of the title.

Namely the definitions of musing is:
  1. Contemplation
  2. Meditation
  3. Thoughtful
  4. Reflection
  5. Deep or absorbed in thought

Why do I think its important that I explain that now?  Because with this post you are going to get to see the inner monologue that runs through my brain.  That includes all the twists and turns and half brained theories, opinions, and positions that I may make.

This blog, as a whole, isn't meant to educate, change a persons opinion or position, or even have any readership whatsoever frankly.

The purpose of this blog is simply meant to translate whats going on in my brain down onto paper to attempt to sort through my many many thought processes and if I happen to share this side of me with others then so be it.

And now to the post!

There is an interesting (when I use this term be aware it actually only means interesting to me but nobody else) phenomenon that i've noticed in the news, message boards, reddit posts, and fads.

What seems to occur is that people generally embrace the topic at hand, and not only get disinterested in the subject but seem to actively discredit it.

I've noticed this appears to apply to every subject imaginable from a simple "I like dogs" post, to the ALS ice bucket challenge, to racism is a problem.

There is one theory that may, partially, account for this phenomenon and thats Compassion Fatigue, also known as Burnout.

Compassion Fatigue is actually something that is fairly common within the line of work I do while taking care of palliative seniors.  One may start out doing this line of work with the utmost compassion for their clients but that compassion begins to gradually lessen more and more.

The reason for this is likely due to a persons mental state being unable to handle all the unpleasant emotions that goes along with caring for sick, dying, and generally suffering people.

So initially when you turn on the infomercials about starving kids in Africa you feel real genuine compassion and sadness for those children.  Over time however you begin to say to yourself "oh enough already".

So alright Compassion Fatigue may account for more heavy hitting subject matter.  But i've noticed this same phenomenon with the most mundane topics possible.  I'll make up the example of a thread on a message boards with the headline "I Love DOGS!".  A thread like this seems to have a natural progression that begins with general agreement with the loving of dogs that devolves into people, not merely being bored with the subject but, actually start countering with "Not only do I note love dogs but dogs are evil for such and such reasons".

What can account for this?  Well here is where I do some really far reaching surmising.

I'm wondering if this has something to do with the theory of cognitive dissonance?  I might be stretching here but hear me out.

First of all Cognitive Dissonance is a theory that basically posits that you must have a belief structure whereby you are a smart rational person.  Any other thought must be in line with this belief structure.

For example.  You are a smoker.  However you learn that smoking is bad for your health but you continue smoking.  These two thoughts aren't in line with you being a smart rational being.  Therefore one of these two statements must be incorrect.  Either you stop being a smoker or discredit the negative effects of smoking by outright denying its health risks or merely believing that it only harms you at the end of your life when it doesn't matter anyway.

Now lets use this theory on the mundane thread of the loving of dogs.

You follow a thread with people all talking about how much they love dogs.  You become bored with the subject.  Your brain now has 3 thoughts:
  1. I'm bored with the subject
  2. Many people like this subject
  3. How can I be bored with a subject that so many others like?  Either they are wrong or I am wrong.  Since i'm a smart rational person they must be wrong.
So instead of just realizing that people are different and have differing viewpoints that could all be valid the person has to prove how their viewpoint is wrong since it doesn't match his/her own.

Again this may be a stretch but may also have valid credence considering just how closed minded we humans tend to be.

Now for a very good example of this phenomenon. The ALS ice bucket challenge. The reason I titled this post New Story Fatigue is because popular news stories very often seem to have this very natural progression of embracement to disdain and ALS is no exception.

The ALS ice bucket challenge quickly became a phenomenon that was embraced by the mainstream media and spread throughout all of social media.

It started out where everybody was excited about doing the challenge and gleefully challenged others to do it as well. It was embraced by friends, co workers, and celebrities alike. It seemed everybody was on board with this new social phenomenon.

However, because of the intense exposure the ALS challenge received, it appeared to go through my News Story Fatigue cycle more quickly then usual.

It went from total embracement to people saying its a lame fad, to other charities deserve your money, to ALS is actually a horrible charity and you shouldn't be giving them any of your money. All within a relatively short span of time.


Quick tangent here on the criticisms of the ALS ice bucket challenge. There are many so i'll only address 3. And to quickly summarize my opinion on the criticisms: Stop it. The challenge and charity is fine.

1. The charity only gives 25% to research.
Read the charities mission statement. They never intended on spending all of their money on research. Their goals also include such things as raising awareness. Upon further inspection it actually looks like a pretty reputable charity that achieves its publicly stated goals while spending relatively little on its' administration.

2. You should choose your charity based on which charity is more on need and has a higher death count.
Skip the next paragraph if you don't like vulgarities....

Are you fucking kidding me? Who the fuck are you to decide which charity we should give money to? The body count isn't the only possible consideration.

How about the severity, anguish and suffering of the disease?

ALS has got to be one of the worst diseases out there.

Sure I witness the awfulness of Alzheimer's disease (and am by no means discounting it or placing it below ALS). But at least those suffering from Alzheimer's usually have their mind rot away so they aren't able to contemplate what is happening to them. ALS preserves your mind so that you can watch as the rest of your body disintegrates in a slow painful death.

So fuck this argument and anyone who supports it. Once again. Who are you to decide which is more important?

3. ALS funding is taking away from other, also worthwhile, charities.
After point number 2 i'll be much more civil here.

To begin with this is a claim that I have yet to see anybody substantiate and is merely guesswork.

While it may be true that some people have decided to change charities i'd argue that most people don't have a set charity to begin with and probably wouldn't have given to any charity. Its not like there is 100m in money allocated to charity each year.

That money can go up and down. Heck if we are going to make wild claims with no actual proof then i'll make one of my own.

I bet these movember, breast cancer walk, and ALS challenge awareness campaigns increase peoples awareness in charitable giving in general. They may start with these charities and become more likely to continue giving to others charities in the future.

Now this tangent being said i'm not giving to ALS but sure as hell don't lament those who do :)

K Tangent over.
Where the heck was I?
Oh right:

"It went from total embracement to people saying its a lame fad, to other charities deserve your money, to ALS is actually a horrible charity and you shouldn't be giving them any of your money. All within a relatively short span of time."
How the heck did this happen?

Forget cognitive dissonance, forget compassion fatigue. I've got a new theory i'm creating and its News Story Fatigue. Here is how this theory works (and its really quite simple):

Humans are hardwired to get bored with subject matter after repeated exposure.
We hate getting bored and in order to spice things up we create a counterpoint to whatever the subject is.

These counterpoints make for more exciting subject matter and can explain why all of these stupid reality shows exist.

It could also explain why the Maury Povich show went from being the compassionate show it was to a more Jerry Springer show replete with thrown chairs.

And thats all I got on this made up super interesting (remember that means only interesting to me) phenomenon that i'm calling News Story Fatigue.

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