Home » Columns » What You Know, and What You Don’t: Jackman-Atkinson

What You Know, and What You Don’t: Jackman-Atkinson

July 13, 2019 8:08 AM | Columns


By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, Neepawa Banner & Press

Newspaper - Computer

In a world that’s increasingly fragmented and siloed, we need newspapers. Or at least the service they provide — a place to get a variety of news and advertising. Today, you can find out anything about anything. But what if you don’t know what you’re looking for? Or that you’re even looking for something?

This is the important role newspapers and other general interest news sources offer, be it a paper, a local newsletter, dedicated news sites, radio or the signboard at the post office. The algorithms that drive advertising on Facebook and Google are only informed by past browsing history, they can’t look into the subconscious or the future. Have you recently searched for hotel rooms in Regina? All of a sudden, you will be bombarded with ads for hotels and motels and maybe the occasional rental car too. But what about if you don’t know that you want to go to Regina for the weekend? What if you haven’t even considered taking a little holiday because you’re busy with your life and will feel regret when summer is over and you didn’t getaway? The algorithms can’t help with that.

This holds true in cases big and small. If you want to know everything about the newest half-ton truck, you can go to the internet and read about specs and prices and more reviews than you can handle. You can build and you can price your dream model. But what if you’re not actively in the market for a new truck or a new house? Stumbling across an ad in a general interest location is the only way to learn about things you don’t yet know you want or aren’t already looking for.

It’s not just houses, cars and hotel rooms. Would knowing that steaks and ice cream are currently on sale make you happy and save you some money? Would knowing that this week, you can stock up on your favourite products be good to know? Would your family enjoy going to the local fair that you didn’t know was happening because you haven’t been involved before? We don’t just need things we’re looking for, we also need the things we don’t know we want or need. Sometimes, coming across an ad leads to a new way of solving a problem, a solution that Google algorithms wouldn’t give you.

Now, maybe you like only seeing ads for the things you’re actively looking for, but what about news? The same principle holds. If you want to dive down a rabbit hole, learning everything you can about a certain topic, the internet is a great place. But how were you first exposed to that topic? Chances are, you stumbled upon it.

How do you learn about proposed changes at the municipal, provincial or federal government levels that will have an impact on you? Or about a hospital closure? How else do you learn about local events or volunteer opportunities? How do you feel inspired by the great things people in your community have been able to accomplish? You need to have some general interest news source.

I think that sometimes, we put too much of an emphasis on specialization. There are certainly times when you want or need deep knowledge; this information used to be rare, and therefore valuable. But now, knowing everything you can is easy and cheap, but the internet hasn’t yet found a way to tell us about the things we don’t know and don’t even realize that we want to know. When the opportunity arises, gather all the information you can about something, but there’s also a time and a place for broadening your outlook.