There’s a scene in Mike Judge’s film Office Space, when the recently laid-off Tom Smykowski, played by Richard Riehle, shows off the prototype of a game he invented called “Jump To Conclusions”. If you haven’t seen it, I can’t do the scene’s humor justice here but all that matters is that the scene sprung to mind when I read The Atlantic’s piece about Sean Parker’s wedding in Big Sur and the apologetic follow up. It reminded me of the dangers of jumping to conclusions and how in today’s fast-paced world – where an idea can spread easier than ever – this can be extremely dangerous.
The Atlantic journalist and senior editor, Alexis C. Madrigal, took the California Coastal Commission’s report to heart in the initial article, detailing and commenting on the photographic exhibits and documented evidence provided by the CCC. I’ll admit that Madrigal’s poking fun at the faux ruins and other Hollywood-like sets that would set the tone of the Parker wedding tells a great story – I mean it’s fun entertainment when us 5-figure salary folks can have a laugh at the expense of the wealthy. Within the few days after the story was published, it garnered an estimated 5,200 Facebook likes, 516 Tweets, and 292 +1′s on Google+ (isn’t that everyone on G+?). Needless to say, Mr. Madrigal was jumping to conclusions and set off the viral spread of this one-sided story. Look, I’m not throwing stones in my glass house. I’m guilty of retweeting the story. Although, I did wonder why there wasn’t a boilerplate “so-and-so couldn’t be reached for comment at press time” in the article, but without a second thought I passed it along.
Fast-forward to today and Madrigal posts a correction titled, “Sean Parker Responds to Redwoods Wedding Criticism, and His Defense Is Actually Pretty Convincing”. The subheadline reads:
Read this letter. It may not change your mind about Sean Parker, but it adds some important details about the nature of the construction at the site.
Following the instructions, I read Sean Parker’s defense and the “slightly edited” version does provide more context about the allegations from the CCC – albeit from his point-of-view. While I still have feelings about his paying $2.5 million dollars for messing up nature, even if minor, the point of this post is the dangers of jumping to conclusions.
I feel like Alexis C. Madrigal’s mistake is forgivable – especially since the follow up article made sure to note that he attempted to reach the CCC about Parker’s letter but hasn’t heard back. One thing is for certain. The phenomenon of jumping to conclusions is ripe in media today and so bad that you can write a conspiracy theory about how politicians and pundits are using it to push a political agenda. For example, before and after President Obama won his reelection, those in opposition have been jumping from one bandwagon to another. Each form of drivel running with stories about Obama taking away our guns (when he wasn’t) or how he was going to kill your grandma (again he wasn’t). It’s not just politics either. Amateur sleuths on Reddit were eager to help out the FBI and Boston PD after the horrific Boston Marathon Bombing and when someone found a doppelgänger for one of the bombers, a group of Redditors jumped to conclusions like lemmings jump off of cliffs. Again, I’m not innocent. While I took the “evidence” with a grain of salt, I did post about it on Facebook to discuss with my friends and while it was framed with latent confusion, who’s to say someone in my network didn’t jump to conclusions with my post.
The point is that media literacy is a game of lost in translation. Even though I consider myself to pay due diligence to sources and feel like my media literacy abilities are high above the average, I’ve caught myself at fault at times. Like Mr. Madrigal, I’ll be quick to admit my mistake. Mainly because I allow new information to alter my reality. Some of us don’t have the patience or the time to evaluate things in that way. I mentioned my feelings about Sean Parker’s letter, but with the follow-up’s headline and subhead, it makes me wonder how many people will have read that and thought Mr. Parker was cleared of all wrong-doing. I mean it’s already been shared by 14 of 292 Google+ users.