Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Inspiration over Information

This post is not about fast food or about global warming, but rather about what inspires us to change.

Recently I have done a few post about our reliance upon accessibility, in that we desire and have more resources at our finger tips than ever, and thus in accessibility of information is more important than actually knowing the information at hand. As a result accessibility largely impacts the role of education as learning cold hard facts becomes less important.

In the post about education I gave a number of examples about how education played a cultural role in societies, often involving memorization of information, even as part of carrying a cultural and social legacy.

Yet, with excessive information at hand, it seems like information in itself has become less powerful. It's economics, as the available information increases, so does it's intrinsic values.

So how do you get people to change their attitudes, habits, and actions?

No longer is information the primary tool, instead it becomes inspiration.

In 2004, a popular documentary came out called Super Size Me, in which film maker Morgan Spurlock ate nothing except McDonald's for each meals for 30 days. This film was inspirational. Not in the chicken soup for soul way, but in a way that made people reconsider their eating choices, particularly fast food. I knew many people who after seeing this film forsaked fast food, with various levels of commitment.

Did Morgan Spurlock really provide very much information in the film? No, instead he used creativity and an eye-catching experiment to catch people off guard, cause them to make commitments and curb their behavior. The news that fast food was not healthy, certainly wasn't new information, but the presentation effected the lives of others.

In contrast, I would contend that the popular-in-Hollywood film by Davis Guggeheim, An Inconvenient Truth, did not inspire or change habits nearly as much as Super Size Me did.

In An Inconvenient Truth, I personally was bored by the highly informative power point presentation that Al Gore helped commit to film. While I don't stand to counter the concepts in the film, the presentation was based on information transfer rather than emotion transfer. Granted Gore presents dire realities for mankind, even as great as another ice age, but you have to wonder if the film was of Al Gore trying to survive an ice age for 30 days if the film would have ignited the green in more viewers?

If the goal is to move a group of people from point A to point B, in an age of accessibility and information overload, inspiration will trump information almost every time.

The application is clear. We'd rather be inspired to be healthy the learn the in's and out's of healthy living. We'd rather be inspired to use this or that parenting method, rather than read psychological studies conducted from ivy league universities. Our actions will change if we are inspired more than if we are informed.

Whether we are inspired to eat organic foods, pray more, protect the environment, commit to save more money, achieve higher levels of education, or donate money to fight off AIDS in Africa it's not the information the will effect our behavior it will be how the inspiration is delivered.


maryt/theteach said...

I think I have to agree with you Strange. I was "inspired" to quit smoking several years ago. No information that came my way made me quit. I continue to be "inspired" and that keeps me quit.

Lorna said...

very asstute post---I just read the Vanity Fair issue on Africa and your theory holds out there too.

Heather said...

You are right on track. Nicely done!

Terence Towles Canote said...

In some respects I think this is how it has always been. Inspiration has always been more fundamental to change in human beings than sheer information. After all, the important texts in Anglo-American popular culture are not works of non-fiction, loaded down with facts, but works of fiction which seek to inform rather than inspire. When Upton Sinclair sought to change the living and working conditions of the poor, he did not write some dry, boring text full of information, but wrote a novel The Jungle. That novel sought to inspire rather than inform and in doing so brought about the Meat Inspection Act, the Pure Food and Drug Act, and the Federal Food and Drug Administration, all to make the drugs and food consumed by Americans safer.

crackers and cheese said...

RC, I really like this post but I'm wondering what specifically makes something inspiring? Is it creativity, sharing old information in a new way? Is it pure shock-value? Information alone may not always inspire change, but what exactly inspires us?

Mercurie, I think it's really interesting that Sinclair's novel did bring about a lot of change, but not the change he may have intended. He wrote about the horrible plight of a poor working family who was struggling to make a living, but did people really feel inspired to help the poor? The readers instead were inspired and disgusted by the chapters that described the meat-packing process. How do we inspire people to care about the lives of others, instead of or in addition to their own wellbeing?

Pfangirl said...

Thanks for the very insightful post.

When you attach an emotional hook to straight facts, it really adds something special to the information, and provokes a reaction in people. It's both inspiring and motivating.

Anyway, I haven't popped in here for a while. I'd forgotten about all the interesting and thought-provoking posts:) Thanks again.

Will said...

Great post here, RC.

In the age of post-postmodernism, we want to trust (maybe even admire or love) the people we believe.

Anonymous said...

Wow, well put. I got stuck a few months back. What attracts readers to me (so I've been told, at least), is my stupid, wacky ways of getting around to my point (if I ever make it there).

I found myself preaching on my site - which is something I never intended to do. My number of site visitors dropped.

Stumped, a close friend told me, "dude, this isn't you. If people want to be preached to, they can go to an unlimited number of sites out there. What makes them want to come to yours? You need to be you!"

Magically the visitors started to increase again. So simple, yet so profound.

I love how you put this. Very well written - very well thought out.


Terence Towles Canote said...

Crakers and Cheese, you are so right about Sinclair. I seem to recall that he was very unhappy about The Jungle triggering reforms in the meat packing process but nothing done to help the plight of the poor. As to how to avoid Sinclair's situation, I don't know how one can inspire people to care about the plight of others rather than worry about their own well being? Sadly, I think most people will tend to worry more over than themselves, even when they are obviously better off than someone else.

Anonymous said...

I think that this phenomenon that you speak of lies in the fact that people want to act on "principle". We esteem those who act on principle. Why? Because a "principle" has no qualifications for it's establishment other than that someone chooses to make it one. When someone does something on principle we are inspired to make it our own principle as well. Because it is good? Oh no! Because of the principle of it! This enables a person to be proud; simply because he has been inspired and so now acts on principle.