Trivial Pursuit

I was playing Trivial Pursuit the other day, and I was again struck by the victimology that always seems to play out during such a game. “You get all the easy questions! Its no fair!” At times, that’s probably true, but over the course of an entire game, its a little less clear who is really getting the short end of the stick. Ignoring for a moment what questions are considered easy (if I answer a question immediately after it was asked, was it an easy question?), this sort of victimology is a difficult thing to avoid. I definitely feel that way sometimes, but I’m beginning to come around. Besides, in the end there’s really nothing you can do about it. Nobody said life would be fair.

Obviously, this doesn’t just affect trivia games either. My first programming class in college was extremely difficult. The professor was a stickler for things like commenting and algorithmic efficiency (something we didn’t even know how to measure yet), but he never told us these things. When we did an assignment, we’d get it back, all marked up to hell. “But it works! It does exactly what you said you wanted it to do!” Obviously, everyone hated this man, myself included. Only two As were given out in his class that semester, and I ended up with a B (and I wasn’t too happy about that). Classes taught by other professors, on the other hand, were much simpler. However, during the course of the next year or so, it became abundantly aware to me that I learned a hell of a lot more than everyone else, so when it came time to buckle down and write an operating system (!) I ended up not having as much trouble as many other students.

It didn’t work that way for everyone in the class. While I hated the professor, I never stopped trying. I ended up learning from my mistakes, while others bitched and moaned about how unfair it was. Ironically, even those in the “easy” classes were complaining about how difficult the course was.

So now its occurring to me that everyone feels like a victim. Take a little trip around the blogosphere and you’ll see lots of protestations about the “liberal media”. Then I head over to 4degreez and hear all the complaints about the “conservative media”. Well, which is it? With respect to the media, everyone is a victim. Why is that?

I see both, all the time. The truth is that there are tons of both liberal and conservative media sources. You just have to know which is which and take them with the appropriate grains of salt. Yes, its frustrating, I know, but playing the victim leads to ruin and it prevents you from honing your arguments, making them stronger and more resistant to criticism.

Don’t take this to mean that we should not be criticising the media. We should be, emphatically. Blogs are great for this in that they are fact-checking everyone and their mother, and will often print retractions of their own mistakes quickly and efficiently (alas, not all blogs are that trustworthy).

And really, the media could be doing a whole lot more to help us than it currently does, especially on the internet. On the internet, there are no compelling spacial boundries, no character limits. There is no reason complete interview transcripts or offical documents can’t be posted along with an article. Hell, its the internet, link to other sources and even criticisms. Let us make up our own mind! Traditional media is awful at this, though I have seen at least some examples of this sort of thing around. The only “problem” with that is that the media could no longer misquote people on a whim or creatively skew statistics, simply because they don’t like someone or something (if I had a dime for every time Wolfowitz was misquoted, I’d be a rich man. I know this because the DoD posts full transcripts of briefings, interviews, and press conferences on their site, much to the dismay of the media, who are now getting caught). There are tons of great ideas, none of which would be all that difficult to implement from a technical standpoint.

The media has lots of work to do, and with the increase of informational transparency in our society, they better get going. Soon. In the mean time, if you’re conservative, look at the liberal media as an opportunity for strengthening your arguments. Don’t bitch and whine about the liberal media and dismiss it out of hand. If your liberal, don’t get pissed off that the media isn’t repeating whatever new contradictory conspiracy theory you’ve concocted and take a page out of the bloggers book. Fact-check their asses!