Opinion: Why binary thinking is ruining your life

Technology and social media are often blamed for imprisoning users inside cognitive echo chambers. There have been many debates around the dangers of endlessly scrolling down your smartphone while your own views are continuously delivered back to you. But the truth is that everything from the newspaper you read to your 24-hour news channel of choice is likely to narrow your worldview rather than challenge it.

However, the primary cause of the polarisation that is dividing rather than uniting the global community is binary thinking. Have you noticed that the more widespread and complex the problems become for 7.8 billion people on this planet, the narrower our views seem to become? Welcome to the oversimplification of everything.

The problem with binary thinking

Almost every news story can be filed under good or bad, true or false, right or wrong. In the upcoming US election, over 150 million voters will choose between Republican or Democrat, and many will be tuning into CNN or Fox News, depending on their political beliefs. Social media will increase the pressure on its users to pick a side and encourage an urgency to have an opinion.

In a digital world where success is measured by clicks, comments, and shares, our news consumption often delivers nothing but confirmation bias to its audience. Truth, nuance, and most importantly context are the biggest casualties of binary thinking. But as Ridley Scott once said, "Life isn't black and white. It's a million grey areas, don't you find?"

In our obsession with being right or picking a side, there is an argument we have become distracted by the shiny allure of technology and lost our way. F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."

It's not technology that is responsible for the differences that are currently dividing us. The buck stops with our inability to not only recognize and accept those differences but celebrate them too. 

Why embracing life's complexity - not binary thinking - could save your career

As automation enters the workplace, we must leave binary thinking to the machines. As humans, this level of intellectual laziness will quickly make employees irrelevant and leave them on the scrapheap. As technology engulfs the world of business, every employee needs to hone their human and psychological strengths. 

Sure, emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning will remove many traditional job roles from the employment landscape. But it could also be an opportunity to set employees free from performing a series of robotic and repetitive tasks. This fundamental change will inevitably create a demand for a set of skills that machines will never possess.

Communicators who possess critical thinking skills and open themselves up to creativity, strategy, and using their imagination to build a vision for the future will excel in the digital workplace. But they must also be able to embrace diverse opinions while taking accountability for their decisions. Understanding nuances and context from every conversation will also enable every employee to find common ground with their colleagues.

Businesses of all sizes are waking up to the fact that they cannot serve a diverse audience if its teams are locked into binary thinking and unable to see beyond their corporate echo chamber. Studies already show that, collectively, organizations can solve problems faster when they are more cognitively diverse. Elsewhere, a McKinsey study revealed that companies with a diverse executive board have a 95% higher return on equity compared with enterprises that have non-diverse boards.

Avoiding the emotional triggers caused by the politics of fear

In HyperNormalisation, an Adam Curtis documentary for the BBC, it stated that "we have retreated into a simplified, and often completely fake version of the world. But because it is all around us, we accept it as normal." 

However, we all have the power to reject these emotional triggers that are automatically sent to our myriad of devices. Sophisticated algorithms might be designed to manipulate our thought process, but we can fight back by caring more about progress than being right or wrong.

Although mainstream media and social channels continue to divide audiences, there is an alternative. Positive News is a digital magazine for journalism about the good things that are happening. The old journalist adage of only bad news sells is beginning to look outdated as digital audiences yearn for something different. The fact that over 70 million people tuned into John Krasinski's Some Good News YouTube channel highlights this perfectly. 

When we switch off the TV, put our smartphones in our pockets, and go for a wander, life quickly feels very different from the narrative promoted by the media. From every person that we meet on our travels, we instantly see how, regardless of our background, we are all much more similar than dissimilar. 

The constant barrage of news stories and daily narratives can make the world feel dramatic, disjointed, and confusing. By removing binary thinking from your life, you can embrace flexibility and get back to exploring both sides of every story. For those reasons alone, I will meet you all in the grey area and reject the traditional black and white options offered by technology.

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