As you may recall, I went to the Hay Festival earlier this year. One of the more popular speakers was Evan Davis –TV is quite a good marketing tool! And appearing at the weekend coincides with the greater turnout – it’s not just effort but organisation that boosts sales.
His book is titled Post-Truth: Why We Have Reached Peak Bullshit and What We Can Do about It. He said that he had started thinking of a book about bullshit a couple of years ago but the pressure to write it became unstoppable with the rise of Trump. His thesis is that low-level dishonesty is rife – exaggeration, selective use of facts, economy with the truth, and careful drafting is apparently so effective that it has become the communications strategy of our times.
As with all talks at Hay there was time for many questions. The best one, I thought, was “You say that we are in a post-truth world. That implies that there was a time of truth. If so, when was it?!” He wryly agreed that ‘twere ever thus and it’s up to us to be as careful as possible with what we rely on and to check it out as much as possible. I then reflected on a talk about knowledge earlier in the week, at which it was noted that accessing true knowledge is no better than it was hundreds of years ago. In former times it was decided by the Pope. Despite the explosion of data that is accessible to us, what we receive now is decided upon by two “Popes” – the creators of the Google algorithm, which tailors our searches to what we have already been searching for.
In an open room we were able to hear different views, independent of the internet. But still decisions were being made, by Evan in this case, as to which questioners he picked. One chap near me held his hand up for the entire question session, even while Evan was replying, to the extent that he needed a hand to hold his hand up. But he never got to ask his question. Why? Because he didn’t wave it. I got to ask a couple of questions over the week by doing two things: sitting at the end of a row, which made it easier for the roving mikes to reach me; and waving my hand when the presenter was looking for the next question. Just being present, even with a brilliant idea, is rarely, if ever, sufficient. In order to sell a product you have to make an impression, to stand out from the crowd, literally in his case.