When news organizations first started sending out mobile push alerts, I jumped at the chance to sign up. The ability to receive alerts on my phone, in real time, gave me a rush as a news junkie.
Lately, though, I’ve seriously considered deactivating them. In recent weeks, they’ve delivered updates about shootings, stabbings, and bombings. The jarring headlines, which pop up on my phone without notice, have made the world seem like a dark place — darker than ever, perhaps.
The recent incidences in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Dallas, Nice, Munich and other cities around the world have been nothing short of tragic. But contrary to what we might think, research shows that the world isn’t more violent than it used to be, even though a lot of media coverage would suggest otherwise.
“People think the world is getting worse. … That’s the perception,” author and computer scientist Ray Kurzweil said at a conference last week. “What’s actually happening is our information about what’s wrong in the world is getting better. A century ago, there would be a battle that wiped out the next village, you’d never even hear about it. Now there’s an incident halfway around the globe and we not only hear about it, we experience it.”
Cognitive scientist Stephen Pinker did extensive research on this topic for his book, “The Better Angels Of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.”
“The only way you can really answer the question — has violence gone up or down? — is to count how many violent incidents have there been as a proportion of the number of opportunities, and has that gone up or down over the course of history? And that’s what I tried to do in the book,” Pinker told NPR in an interview earlier this month. “I looked at homicide, looked at war, looked at genocide, looked at terrorism. And in all cases, the long-term historical trend, though there are ups and downs and wiggles and spikes, is absolutely downward. The rate of violent crime in United States has fallen by more than half in just a decade. The rate of death in war fell by a factor of 100 over a span of 25 years.”
Pinker’s book was published four years ago, but it’s been widely quoted over the past month as people search for answers about whether violence is in fact on the rise. The Republican and Democratic conventions have further fueled the conversation, with Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan and Michelle Obama’s assertion that it’s already great.