Thursday, September 18, 2008

Information-Action Ratio

Describe what Postman means by the term "information-action ratio." Now answer his question: How often does it occur that news causes you to alter plans, take some action, etc.? (He's not talking about weather or traffic news, but so-called "serious" news, the kind that shows up on the network evening news or the pages of a newspaper.) What does your answer tell you about the nature of what passes for news today? (You might recall the Crane poem if that helps or Postman's quotes from Thoreau or watch this music video: http://es.youtube.com/watch?v=PsGwsIlb-Es.)

20 comments:

Elizabeth Gross said...

"Information-action ratio" is a term which describes the ratio of information we get and the extent we utilize the information we receive. Since the invention of the telegraph, the information-action ratio has dramatically altered from one in which the information received from the press dramatically affected the way citizens lived their lives, to one in which much of the information we receive from the press is dramatically underutilized within the context of our own lives. This notion makes sense of the reason why Americans have an obsession with board games and trivia shows... we have to do something with all of the random information given to us by way of the media which we do not use on a regular basis!
News the press currently distributes is disconnected to individual lives, unless that news hits close to home because it either affects those around us, or our professions or economy. (I am from here on speaking of news generally viewed, such as evening news broadcasts or articles covered in tabloid newspapers.) The evening news on television is about local events mostly, from a robber in this town to a fire another town. It is either about a very local tragedy, or something completely and utterly unrelated to our lives so much that everyone who knows about it talks about it in excess to try to make sense of why we know about it so much, especially when it comes to gossip about the lives of celebrities. Also the fact that much of the news we listen to or read about is not a detailed description of that actual occurrence, the stories seem very disconnected, and to get a broad overview of the news story is good enough for many. Issues that would have concerned us before the invention of the telegraph, such as political debates and world affairs, are covered in the same way we are used to hearing all types of news stories- in a very overgeneralized way. Therefore, these stories are similar to any other news coverage on television, because they can be nothing more than a 2 or 3 minute discussion on the affair. How could viewers whose lives are filled with distraction and personal problems really be concerned with issues that are only discussed on the surface in everyday news? The importance of time is given to other aspects of life such as family and work, which is why the everyday news, the most convenient type unconcerned with details and issues, reflects the way its viewers think about current events. To know generally what is going on in the world is good enough for most, because it is an idea reflected in how that news is given to us.

CaitNalven said...

Information-Action ratio is the term Postman uses to describe the amount of action a person takes upon receiving information. His argument is that because we receive such a large amount of contextless information we have been accustomed to not take any sort of action, even in those matters that are important. For myself, I have to say that I sadly have a low information-action ratio. If I see/hear of something that is particularly upsetting, interesting or important I usually don't do more than just talk about it.

Erica said...

The term information-action ratio refers to how relevant information is to you and how it affects you. The amount of action you take in response to the information that you receive. When communication was limited to things like word of mouth etc. the information action ratio was high. But with things like the telegraph and now television, most of the information we get does not have an effect on our actions, it is just information that we are being told we should be aware of. Postman discusses the idea of voting as an action that we take due to the information we have but claims that all that does is create more “news.”
Being a worrier, watching the news for me makes me a more and more cautious person. I believe that my extreme fear of airplanes which was instilled in me well before 9/11, comes from hearing about plane crashes and the unlikelihood of survival if you happen to be in a crash. I do believe that I have a very low information-action ratio but I do tend to be more cautious of things when I hear about them on the news. Most people, however, do not let it effect them in the slightest because the population has the idea that “it will never happen to me.” I think that the news that we get today, most of it is irrelevant to the people it reaches but if there is something to pay attention to, people let it pass by and it gets lost in the shuffle.

Joseph said...

information-action ratio is the ratio of information you are given to the amount of action you can practically take in response to it. In other words with all the information out there how much of it can you truly and actively participate in. This definition makes a huge point about 24/7 news media. I feel out of all of the news 99.999 percent of it does not apply to me or have any effect on my day or life. I do feel a sense of overwhelming confusion by this format. Most news topics describe events that happen to particular people or businesses. Most of the time their outcome happy or sad does not influence me in anyway. Which makes me think that news organizations seem to mostly cover scandalous or over the top situations. Rarely are stories straight news that impact the national population and impact real people who make up most of the country. However, a major news story has effected me directly and immediately. Years ago I had tickets to go see Conan O’Brien in New York City. I was very excited because I have never been to a TV show like that before. In the afternoon before the taping my friends and I stop for food at a random restaurant near the NBC building. During the meal the TV in the restaurant had a breaking news story flash across it. Anthrax was found inside the NBC studios. At this moment I was complete shocked and pretty pissed. I knew that the show was going to be canceled but in the back of my mind I also knew I was lucky that I never made it to the building and happy I saw that report. Besides that one occasion the news never changes my day.

mcummings said...

Information action ration has to do with the information that is given to us and how we react to it. Every day we recieve a bunch of inforamtion that is supposed to be the important news. i think it is supposed to have an impact on us but it does not. If I happen to watch the news and see something horrible I will go "ohh thats so sad", but I will not stay in bed or cancel my plans to dwell on it. I don't neccesarrily think that is the news' fault. Ithink that is just how we are as people. The only time I see news affecting our plans and what not is if it is something personal. AS people we generally don't react to things that frankly aren't about us.

Jessica said...

The "information-action ratio" explains the relationship between the amount of information, whether irrelevant or not, that appears on the news, and the amount of action that is actually taken in response to it. I can't even specifically remember one particular news program affecting my daily routine. I kind of think of my reaction to do nothing as a result of watching the news the same way that people believe that their one vote in an election doesn't make that much of a difference. If someone watches a news broadcast about a serious matter, for example, the fatal earthquake in China, people in America are more likely to react to it emotionally, not physically. It will be acknowledged that it was a horrible event, but no action will be taken because everyone thinks that someone else will take care of it. If the news hits somewhere closer to home, such as 9/11 or Katrina, US citizens are more prone to act because it most likely affects them in some way, shape or form. Unless a news story truly hits close to home, I don't believe that people will willingly act upon it. People are more apt to do research on who Jennifer Aniston is dating by buying a tabloid or checking a tabloid site rather than checking a news website to find out how to help people in time of need. Stories that people pay attention to are those that entertain; not inform.

Alyssa said...

In chapter 5 Postman says "by generating an abundance of irrelevant information, it dramatically altered what may be called the 'information-action ratio." He means that information gets its importance from the possibilities of action. When people receive information there is the possibility that they will act in response to it through actions of changing their plans, physically responding to a situation, etc.
Its true that with the amount of news we are fed each day and with the nature of this news (potentially and realistically it could and does affect our lives in a political, social or economic sense)there should be more action, more physical response from the American public. But in reality there is really very little response and I personally don't often alter my plans or take action in response to the news. When Hurricane Katrina occurred I responded emotionally with empathy but I did not go to New Orleans to help or I did not send aid. When 9/11 occurred I also responded emotionally with shock, horror, empathy and any other emotion you would associate with such a tragic event. I may have reacted more severely because my father was in NYC that day for work and his building is directly next to the WTC so I did change my plans but not drastically. I left school early so I could be home and waiting for his call that he was okay. But other than that I never alter my plans or do anything to physically convey that news affects me. It does affect me but internally, although if I knew of a way I could physically aid in the economic crisis, the war in Iraq or the healthcare crisis of this country I would most definitely contribute as best I could. The problem is that many Americans don't have time to physically react to the news. They are so caught up in their own lives and problems that the problems of the nation and the world, which should be just as important to them, dont seem important and they don't give it much of a second thought. They want to know the headlines of the day so they can say they're informed individuals and in touch with society but they probably couldn't care less about the Iraqi civilian casualties or what's going on on Wall Street...unless of course they saw an immediate affect on their finances, then they might care. Anything and everything passes as and is considered news today. We see this when there is the latest details of the Britney Spears saga directly following or preceding a story about the election. Entertainment and celebrity news is delivered alongside the noteworthy crimes of the day and the latest natural disaster to hit the world. Even the news that is supposed to be considered "traditional" news such as crime stories, community stories, political stories are turned into a sort of entertainment with newscasters delivering dramatic- sounding plugs before commercial breaks, meant to tantalize viewers' appetite for drama and encourage them to keep watching. News has gone from having concrete importance and being a large part of daily life to coming second, taking a backseat to the countless other activities that Americans engage in.

Howie Good said...

I'd ask you to recall the poem from Crane, "A newspaper is a collection," which, it seems to me, speaks very much to the problem Postman identifies with his "information-action ratio."

Julie said...

"Information-action ratio" refers to the quality of news which we watch and the way we react to it in terms of the physical action we take in response.

Personally, I usually do not let the news alter my plans in any way. Most of the time after watching the news I really just feel depressed. The news, especially local news is always about death and robberies and things that, to be honest, just make me want to stay in my house all day. After having said that I guess if the news affected my actions at all it would be in a negative way. I remember one morning I woke up before I had to be up for the day and I had left my TV on from the night before. With my eyes still closed I was listening to the news report and it was death after rape after missing child and violence. It was enough to make me get out of bed to turn off the TV and even after that I couldn't fall back asleep just thinking about how that could be the most important thing these journalists had to report about. I also just watched the music video posted and that's exactly how I, along with many Americans feel. It makes you lose your faith in humanity.

My answer tells me that basically what passes for news today is whatever happens to be the most dramatic story. Lets just say if the news is trying to get any kind of reaction out of its viewers its doing so by instilling fear in us until we have to take action.

Tarez said...

The information-action ratio is the difference between how much information we receive and how much of it we actually press to our everyday lives. It is the balance between receiving word of a world outside, and actually holding that world on any pedestal of importance in our personal lives. It is, simply, what we do with the information we receive.
And Postman hits the nail on the head. We don’t do anything with it, and we probably never will. This “we” encompasses everyone—I am just as guilty as the next person, even if we all tell you otherwise.
The ideal would be that we all got up and went out and did what we had to do to see some change. We would all stop bitching about our problems in blogs or seething letters to editors, and actually take the action. But, as Postman always beats us to the punch—that’ll never happen either. We’re too comfortable with the cradling arms that first sprouted from the sides of our televisions; we’re fine with just learning about this stuff, and thinking that that is enough. We just want to impress people over cocktails with our knowledge of the crisis in Darfur, or dazzle someone with our wits when it comes to the economic bumble, nay, explosive fuck-up that is occurring in our backyard. Seriously. We should all be far more upset by this than we are.
Anyway, in comparing Postman’s idea to Crane’s poem—the best lines are:
“A newspaper is a collection of half-injustices
Which, bawled by boys from mile to mile,
Spreads its curious opinion
To a million merciful and sneering men,
While families cuddle the joys of the fireside
When spurred by tale of dire lone agony.”
The only real change that the news may have over our plans is MAYBE we’ll take a little more time to appreciate our lives. Maybe.
It’s all in large part because what passes for news today isn’t alarming anymore, or at least isn’t taken as alarming. You would hear word of things “way back when” because they were truly remarkable events; wars, assassinations, discovery of new people, animals, etc.; things that impacted cultural and societal life. Today, you know when some mid-grade politician kisses a baby or when some dog learns how to bark a noise that sounds like “hello” if you cover your ears and pretend real hard. What I’m saying is…we’re overloaded with the stupid.
Postman’s first Thoreau quote fits that idea perfectly.
“We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate….We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.”
The news doesn’t stop our television watching (we flip the channel if it does), it doesn’t interfere with our eating, sleeping or driving patterns (except when they tell us eggs are bad for us...no wait, good for us, oh no, bad again!), and it doesn’t dampen our weekend plans—so why care? These are the only things that are truly distressing to us anymore. The news today is entertainment, and it will all be replaced with something more entertaining tomorrow.
So, we can just quote Jonathan Lethem’s NYTimes op-ed piece “Art of Darkness” (see, you can’t escape the entertainment!)“…I wasn’t stirred to any feeling richer than an exhausted shrug, as when confronted by headlines reminding me that we no longer have a crane collapse or a bank failure, we have the latest crane collapse, the latest bank failure.”

Eloise said...

"information-action ratio" is a term that describes the amount of information we (as citizens) obtain and how we get react to it.
I believe that with both Crane's and Postman's views they feel that with the information we receive there should be a reaction. What is disappointing is with what American's receive from the news and media outlets are stores that are tragedies and horror. People allow the bad into their house and what is being put into the newspaper is to create or install fear. Is that was is considered "news" worthy, everything bad? But why would newspapers want to install fear or create it?

Is it so what is going on in the world can be justified or used as a distraction?

After the attacks of 9/ 11 i remember the news would have a terror- meter. This meter would track how vulnerable American's are to terrorism. If it was on red we were at a all time high and vulnerable to receive attacks similar to those of 9/11. I remember watching the news and feeling scared that what if this was to happen again? What can be done to protect us?

War. The news worked with the side of our government to install fear so the war can be justified. We are scared and if war is what is needed then so be it, because we are scared.

Now, seven years later we are still at war and now American's want answers to why we are still in the same position. Instead the media can be used to talk about other horror stories to stop us from asking questions.

Howie Good said...

The "information-action ratio" ought also to bring to mind the notion of "civic capital," which, according to libertarian theory, the press is supposed help citizens accumulate, but which it instead now seems to squander.

chloe said...

Information Action Ratio, as defined by Postman is the idea that information may be received, but the action taking place as a result of information is lacking. Postman’s definition makes me think of the concept of negative freedom. Similar to the current information-action ratio, negative freedom explains an idea that something-freedom or information-is granted, but not action is taken place in light of it. Current media “news” has little effect on my plans or ability to take action. Current “news” serves me personally as an inspiration source as it motivates me to search harder for trustworthy news sources so that I may stay informed of political processes. For example, I have recently joined NYPIRG so that I have a politically local outlet that informs me of many current political processes, especially in New York State, and so that I may become involved on a level that is non-partisan and “action oriented” in the sense that it is local politics I am working for or against, not the “major issues” or “breaking News” stories that exist on more international levels. What this answer tells me, and what the silly music video shows me, is that “news” today is on a very un-personal level in the sense that people are less informed, and more scared about current “information”, which is shown in the headline: “Report: Nuke Nightmare on U.S. Possible” 1:45 in to the video. (This “report” surprisingly coming from the fucking bill O’reilly show). In terms of Postman’s ratio, information today is non-inviting, we are not stimulated or referred to act, there are little to know suggestions on how to make a difference on a large or small scale. To put it simply, the current “News” media gives very little genuine information, so the action as a result is of course lacking.

k.bell said...

The “information-action ratio” describes the response or lack of response that is generated from daily news stories. The latter, or lack or response is plaguing our country due to the overwhelming amount of useless information we are exposed to. Even legitimate news stories rarely, if ever, cause me to change my daily plans. There is a better chance for a commercial to get me to go out of my way to buy or try a new product. Television news stories only continue to lower the “information-action ratio.” People turn on the news to find out what is going on in the world but really they turn on the television for entertainment and something to talk about with their friends. Real news stories are stuck between the newest celebrity scandals or today’s sports scores and everyone continues their daily lives like nothing ever happened. But really nothing did happen, just another day of bogus stories and newscasters saying what they’re getting paid to say.

Bryan said...

According to Postman, the "information-action ratio" refers to the relationship between what one is informed about in any communication environment and the possibilities of taking action based on information received (input vs. output). I find Postman's comparison of books to the telegraph interesting. He explains that books are an excellent source of information, that they are symbols of intellectualism and that the authors that write them are revered members of society. The telegraph, on the other hand, made the relationship between information and action almost non-existent. "The principal strength of the telegraph was its capacity to move information, not collect it, explain it or analyze it." People see "news" as the most up-to-date message. They have no interest in evaluating the information, whether it is factual or not. Crane felt this way about the newspaper of his time. People were drawn to the opinions and interesting stories written in the paper. He explains in his poem, "A newspaper is a collection of half-injustices," that the newspaper "is feckless life's chronicle, a collection of loud tales concentrating eternal stupidities." To Crane, the newspaper is worthless and useless.

After reading Postman and trying to understand the information-action ratio, I have thought of one situation that has occurred locally that could compare to this concept. Recently, there has been articles in local papers and stories on the local news about a county-wide petition to close the bars in New Paltz at 2 AM, instead of 4 AM. This has caused an uproar on campus. I can't stop hearing people talk about it. Along with this, for example, there are articles and stories concerning our plummeting economy. But do we care that our country is in complete economic turmoil? No. We quickly burn that thought in our mind and focus on something that effects us, something like being able to stay out and party for an extra two hours.

John Purcell said...

The term “information-action ratio” means the amount of information we take in compared to the amount that information invokes an action in us. Mostly, the news will not alter my plans or make me take action. Then again, I am not sure if I completely agree that the news should always invoke you to take an action. Take for instance news about a candidate’s speech; the real objective of the news should be to inform you about what was said at the speech. Do I think that it should invoke some action, not necessarily. Isn’t being informed about the news enough sometimes? Why do we need always need to be changing plans or taking action? It would be feasibly impossible to take action and change plans all the time according to what you hear on the news, assuming it is news with some substance.

I just don’t really buy into the whole information-action ratio. I am not defending the current media, because, yes, there is a lot of garbage that is not news on it now. I don’t feel the action will ever be equal to the information, unless you are getting very little information. There is a vast wealth of information and alternative news sources across the internet, so I feel there are ways to find this important information. They might not get placed in front of you in the mainstream media, but they are there. When I watched footage of Amy Goodman and fellow Democracy Now journalists being arrested I did not in turn do any immediate action, but I feel being informed about the situation is important. This makes me more aware of the world around me and to me that is important.

In conclusion, yes, I do not nearly come close to acting on all the information I get, but I am not sure if that is a bad thing. Our news is mostly filled with junk, but there are other sources to go to. I just can’t see the news as a whole as junk. A small spectrum of news informs the masses, which is a shame, but the main problem I feel is that the masses do not care to be informed. How are you supposed to get someone to act on information when they don’t even care in the first place?

Melissa said...

Postman uses the term “information-action ratio” to explain the rate at which we receive information whether on the television or in the paper versus the rate at which we take action and do something with the news given to us. I sat and thought about this blog for a while before posting. I thought there has to be significant news, besides traffic and weather, that changes my plans. Unfortunately, like Joseph, the last time I could think of my plans being altered was a few years ago when the terrorist alerts in the city were high. There were a few times that I wanted to go into the city for a friends birthday, or to just walk around and be in the city, and my parents would not let me. I think this information tells us a lot about not only the news today but also the viewers and readers of news. It is pretty obvious, that the news is not effecting us as much as it could. I want to be able to say that it is completely the newspaper man‘s fault, but the truth is, people are not caring as much for the news as they used to. People have grown more interested in celebrities, gossip and tabloids than politics and world events. The nature of the news has changed significantly. The fact that Paris Hilton fell down drunk or whatever it is she does, is not going to make me change my plans at all. But, if there were something interesting going on in my area that I heard about through the news, I would most likely, change my plans to attend.

kim plummer said...

When Postman refers to the term Information-action ratio, he is describing the actions, or measures, we feel motivated to take based on the information/news we receive.
I feel that broadcast news, on the level we receive it, does not leave much room for action. I think that news is presented to us in such a way, that we are left feeling like there is nothing we can do about it. The news we receive isn’t very motivating, it tells us what happened and what’s resulted from that. The only action presented to us is voting, and it’s a very limited action being that candidates don’t necessarily cater to every issue which concerns you.
I think that most people aren’t motivated by the news they receive. It’s broad and over generalized; news conglomerates really alienate the citizens they’re reporting to, which makes it hard to relay motivation to these people. After sitting through my Journalism 1 class I feel like most people aren’t even motivated to read the news. Every morning my professor asks a class of thirty people to speak about any relevant news topics, of which only three hands are raised and two of which think the last game at Yankee Stadium to be relevant news.
So, if people don’t even want to be informed, how can there be any action?

Nicole99 said...

When Postman uses the term information-action ratio he means that the information that is being put out there by the media and the press is not causing people to react after reading it. After the telegraph was invented and more diverse news stories were being spread it was thought that it would create more of a buzz or action. But instead it had the reverse effect and has now made people almost immune to stories unless like Postman said it effects us on a way more personal level, which usually doesnt happen. I know for myself when I read the news its just like reading entertainment, and that is exactly what it has all become...just entertainment.I still do believe that the news keeps us informed, but noone would wanna read it if it wasnt entertaining. This might be totally off topic but if anyone has ever seen like those random local channels that talk about local important town news, usually the most boring thing to watch. Im sure that everything said on those shows effects people in each particular town being discussed but noone rarely watches it becasue its boring! Maybe i think that helps to also explain postmans point, maybe im wrong?

EHolahan said...

The "information-action ratio" is the response people have to news stories and what actions they take as a result of those news stories.

I feel that the actual news that is being reported seems so catastrophic that there is nothing one person could do to change anything. After watching the news two weeks ago about the horrible weekend on wall street it made me feel helpless and even more scared for the future of our economy but it did not inspire me to go out and take action.

The last time I took action from watching the news was for self serving purposes. After hearing the news reports that gas prices may go up to five dollars a gallon because of the hurricane hitting texas, I went out and filled my tank. However gas prices never went up here and never really effected this area like they said it might.

Due to the fact that the news is a mixture of entertainment and actual news I feel that people are getting immune to the stories that they are hearing. We might be sitting and watching the news story and talk about it a couple minutes later but I don't necessarily take action after hearing every story.