Threat-dominated thinking

David Weinberger points to this good article byBritt Blaser. It’s a challenge to the caffeinated coverage of recent attacks by mainstream meda – and by implication to our willingness to be stimulated by it: “we Americans admire the terrorism problem too much as a mass entertainment to wean ourselves off that particular drug.” It’s worth reading the whole thing; here’s how he concludes:

Our brain – specifically the reticular formation (so-called “reptile brain”) is set up to face threats first and only seek opportunities when not threatened. That bias for threat info sells stuff to us. To that end, the media has grabbed and holds our attention, robbing us of the chance to pay attention to something other than the media. The coverage has no content relevant to personal safety. Our obsession with every imaginable “threat” to our person has overwhelmed our ability to maintain our personal compass in the life we really live in. We forget that we’re all going to die sometime.

But we’re wired this way, so there’s little chance we can talk our way out of this silliness, but we may be rescued by technology’s steady march from broadcasting to narrowcasting. Broadcasters (a few sources casting broadly) must compete with each other for attention and ad revenue. Narrowcasters (many sources, beaming their message only to the few who tune in) report in a more human voice, uncluttered by inflated threat messages.

I certainly noticed I made a conscious effort to limit my viewing of broadcast news last week, addictive though it is, and, yes, I did find the alternative diet of bloggers relatively therapeutic.

5 thoughts on “Threat-dominated thinking

  1. Ton

    Hi Johnnie,

    Interesting thinking this. It feels like I need to give this a place in my thinking of new effective information strategies. Fear sells, I know that both from media (especially American news media), as well as from work. But it always feels a bit uncomfortable to do as well.

    If our threat focussed response is a blockade at some points how build strategies around that focussing on opportunities, removing/overcoming the blockade. To know when to take more time thinking, consciously overcoming our hardwired response, and when to roll with that response. A new trick to learn?

  2. Johnnie Moore

    Ton: Thanks, you’ve picked up something I may want to say more about too, the “fear sells” problem. Yes it sells, but what a price we pay for it sometimes.

    An area that interests me a lot at the moment is the idea of Dialogue put forward by David Bohm and well articulated by William Isaacs in the book of the same name. In crude summary, trying to get behind thinking as a programmed response to stimulus.

    The Buddhists might contend that we don’t need a new trick, but a very old one… awareness. It’s rich territory.

  3. Paul Hannay

    Hi Johnnie,

    Haven’t caught up with you since reboot. I’ve been following your blog, and was glad to hear that you were OK last week.

    Going a bit off topic here, but your mention of Bohm’s work on dialogue caught my eye.

    I facilitated a strategic review for a tech company a few weeks ago, and made extensive use of the dialogue concept.

    In fact, the slide that was displayed on the huge screen as the leadership team walked in was a David Bohm quote, taken from ‘Synronicity’ by Joseph Jaworski…

    “From time to time, the tribe gathered in a circle. They just talked and talked and talked, apparently to no purpose. The made no decisions. There was no leader. And everybody could participate. There may have been wise men or wise women who were listened to a bit more

  4. Johnnie Moore

    Hi Paul, thanks for your comments, very interesting – I really like that way of working.

    By the way, sorry about your formatting problem, it was down to a setting in the comment preview template here which I think I’ve now fixed.


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