We are all experts now

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
The Writer
The Writer

I don’t quite remember when the concept of the information overload came into use.

Having spent a lifetime in search of information and earning a living from it, every instinct in my body told me information was a good thing and I couldn’t possibly have too much of a good thing.

Now I am not so sure.

Not only is information of all sorts now available to all of us at all times, we all now believe we are experts on every subject.

Let me take a subject such as health for example.

Everyone with a smartphone presumes to know everything that people spent many years in Medical School trying to learn.

Thanks to Google, we purport to be able to diagnose all ailments and thanks to Dr WhatsApp, we think we know the cure for every condition.

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Thanks to the smartphone, everyone is now a journalist, we get information and broadcast whatever we believe might interest somebody and we are urged to share and share and share.

Little difficulties such as checking and re-checking and getting corroboration from other sources do not now stand in the way of broadcasting. So, we are bombarded with half-baked and sometimes totally untrue claims dressed up as news stories.

Egg stories

Stories from big scientific surveys that would change received wisdom used to appear once in a while on the front page of a Sunday newspaper. Now you are bombarded with it on WhatsApp every minute of the day.

It used to be that you would wake up one morning to be told that contrary to what we were brought up to believe, for example, eggs were not good for us. I had gone through half my life without ever hearing about cholesterol and suddenly I was being urged to check the cholesterol level in everything that I ate and eggs were the first casualty.

Article after article sought to frighten you off what used to be food for the rich and privileged just as eggs were getting to within reach of the ordinary person.

They were said to be bad for your heart, and yet I had been brought up to see eggs as an excellent source of protein.

By the time the egg stories came , I had already reached the stage where I was not taking much notice of all health alerts. I had sat out the brouhaha about butter being bad for you until another scientific study came back to say butter was fine after all.

In much the same way, I had waited out all the back and forth about red wine and white wine.

Indeed, I am not quite sure I know where the current orthodoxy is but I had always held firmly to the view that if I felt like red wine, I would drink it and not because it was said to be good for me or better than white wine.
I, therefore, felt well prepared for the onslaught of the Dr WhatsApp health alerts.

I watched with a smile the video that claimed coconut oil was the best thing ever and I watched the video on the wonders of palm oil and I felt they were preaching to the faithful; Ghanaians had never fallen for the campaign against palm oil.

When the inevitable contrary ones came warning against coconut oil and palm oil, I was not moved.

Wonder plants and postures
I work up enough enthusiasm to read and watch postings on the various wonder plants and fruits that cure or prevent cancer.

I toyed with getting on the cassava diet, which was said to be a miracle cure and prevention and gave up on the idea because I wasn’t sure how long it would take before another study would come around claiming it was poison and should be avoided.

I was fascinated by the post that gave a long and detailed account of what the safe postures were for sleeping. Apparently, I should only sleep lying on my left side, (or is it the right side?) and never on my stomach.

Here I have been sleeping, lying on my stomach all these years and I was fine, the last time I checked.

I forget what is supposed to happen if you sleep lying on your back, face up; but since that is not a posture I tend to gravitate towards, I decided I could safely ignore whatever were its advantages or disadvantages.

I am afraid I have gradually got myself into the position that I can do without a lot of the information that I am bombarded with on a daily basis.

I have cited “health related” postings to try to make the point that even what at first sight looks like important information might not be that important at all.

When the 24-hour news cycles started operating, the emphasis of news gathering shifted from truth and reliability to being first with the news.

The problem is that being first with the news does not necessarily mean that you end up with information that will stand the test of time or the test of reliability.

First with the news

I don’t remember who, but someone once said, “the fog of information can drive out knowledge”. The ease with which we all now can put out information is undermining what used to be the sacred nature of news.

We have to accept that plurality of opinions does not guarantee quality or truth.

Some publications these days and some of the stories that our news outlets put out obviously tick the first with the news box; but would fail the reliability and truth test. Unfortunately, the damage that is done first with the news cannot be undone.

Here we are fighting for a Right to Information Act that would enable us gain access to information we believe is hidden from us.

I have always worried that we are not interested in the information that is often hidden in plain sight and which is easily accessible in the Hansard.

I have been speaking with a young man who knows something about the desalination plant in Teshie and he assures me it is a very expensive full-scale disaster.

The water company doesn’t want it, as it cannot be run without huge financial losses, the Teshie people are now not too keen on it because they claim the water is salty.

Every day it lies there, the country is accumulating Menzgold size debts and the only people left smiling are the foreign company and the Ghanaian collaborators; they make money whether the plant is used or not.

And yet whatever there was to know about this contract was available to the public, as the contract went to Parliament.

How come then that we all missed what seems obvious now that this was a bad deal, if I might be permitted to use the Trump-patented terminology.

I live in Ayawaso West Wuogon, and even though I do not vote here, I care about my community which has now sadly gained undeserved notoriety.

I think on the morning of the by-election and the fact that a lot of the information put out that morning turned out to be untrue.

I feel saturated with useless information, I don’t want any more.