All You Can Know

The world we live in is like a buffet with an “All You Can Eat” sign at the door. There is such an abundance of information available to us, giving us the privilege of choosing the most “tasty” information, which is similar to the selection process of finding the best dish in a buffet. These stories are like delicious, exquisite pastries on the dessert stand, each of them are in different shapes and colors but equally attractive. Many people would put several pieces on their plate and leave with the conclusion that they are all too sweet. As I take my steps into evaluating the media world during my first weeks of college where I am studying journalism, I’ve been starting to ask: Are these stories, which appear to be so diverse and rich in content, as comprehensive and inclusive as they look? After tasting all the desserts, what is the flavor that stays in our mouths?

During my first week of journalism school, I learned not to write a story from a single source. After listening to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk on her experience with the danger of listening to just a single story, I started to think about this in terms of my own media consumption. While major publications and broadcast companies portray themselves as being diverse in perspectives, the coverage might not fully and authentically reflect the different cultural identities present in our multifaceted world. Stories can come from multiple sources and still only contain a single or overlapping perspectives

As an international student in the US – this “melting pot” of cultures with different voices from all over the world, this buffet with hundreds of desserts I can choose from – I have had several encounters with the problem. I think I can get the best of both worlds as an international student. I came to the US when I was young enough to have my worldview be formed with the understanding of two cultures. In my high school, one of my Spanish-speaking American classmates once complained about the difficulty of learning a language, and he thought that English was too hard for him. I told him that English, in my opinion, was easier to learn than other languages. He responded, and I still remember it very clearly: “That’s because it is your first language, so you think it is natural.”

In our later conversations, I let him know that English is actually my second language. I am not going to lie about the fact that I felt a little proud when I heard his response. I guess I had succeeded in assimilating myself in American culture and the English language to some extent. Some of my classmates who knew that I come from China asked all kinds of questions that I thought were very funny, in a good natured way. I could tell that they were curious about this country in the Far East. Of course, I loved telling them all about my life and my understanding of China. I assumed they did not get these kinds of perspectives on NBC or CNN.  Some of these conversations even helped me begin some long-lasting friendships. A lot of my friends who spoke to me about China were eager to go and explore the country.

I did not have the exact same experiences Adichie did when she came to the US, but what we learnt is pretty similar. “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete,” Adichie said. Stories matter. They build a three-dimensional understanding of certain fields or cultures for people who have not experienced them first-hand. I find that these stories are definitely missing from our media. In addition to focusing on changes, conflicts, and breaking news happening all over the world, media sources should also create opportunities for people to learn through providing multiple perspectives and focusing on different cultural identities.

When we visit an “All You Can Eat” restaurant and we taste all the delicious cakes, maybe we should pay a little more attention to the taste of mint in the chocolate cake or the flavor of the egg yolk in the Chinese moon cake. In this “All You Can Know” media world, maybe there are genuine and relatable stories that have not been covered with a complete understanding. As I continue my journalism journey, I think that this disparity is something I will love to explore.

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