“If It’s From the Internet, It Must Be True”

Posted: May 20, 2014 in The Cyberpunk Chronicles

Even with the ubiquity of social media, there are still those who profess to being clueless about its existence, much less their usefulness. That is sometimes not such a bad thing. The Internet is generally considered to be a boon to humanity, providing easy access to real-time data. It can also often be overwhelming. A search for something as obscure as “Quintus Sertorius” yields 254,000 results in 0.46 seconds. “Wilfrido Nolledo” yielded 11,000 results in less time. Much to my amusement, a search for my own name produced 2,260 results. A staggering figure, considering I wasn’t even on the virtual radar when Google started out. By contrast, the World Wide Web of the early 1990’s had fewer than 5,000 websites set up. Most of them were government and university archives… and of course, pornography sites. The same static, and arguably impartial icons of information during those times. Back then, you might as well visit your nearby library to get the same information.

Fast-forward, nearly twenty years: According to InternetLiveStats.com, we are fast approaching the one billion mark of websites online. Moreover, the way information is transmitted has drastically changed: We are no longer are we passive receivers of content, the way consumers had been with TV and radio; we can exchange and create information, via email, YouTube, blogging, and social media. In this current incarnation, we have become prosumers as well as consumers, in this so-called incarnation of the internet, known as Web 2.0. In the near future, components such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and 3D Printing will add yet another fascinating (and complicated) layer to this rapidly evolving medium.

Have we been able to keep up? With the rate of information exchange cycling at breakneck speed, we are absorbing an unbelievable amount of virtual gray matter. A child exposed to TV back in 1993 would have seen an average of 20,000 commercials a year (up to 50 commercials a day), according to TV-Free America. However, with the advent of Tivo, DVR’s and tube videos, commercials are nothing more than an inconvenience nowadays, relegated to halftime viewing in the SuperBowl. We as end users can now happily consume all the data we want.

Whether we can digest it properly or not is another story. In this “Blink” generation – where we are encouraged to make snap judgments, based on little more than intuition and a handful of selected data – Critical Thinking is fast becoming a rare commodity. For most of human history, wars have been won, campaigns decided, based on the victor’s availability of resources and luck. A wealth of information usually topped the list of resources. Even winners on the stock market, if they did not have Warren Buffett’s uncanny prescience, had to rely on insider reports before they could pull the trigger of action. Today, it is different: There is a wealth of information for everyone — too much of it, in fact. There are too many variables to consider, for far too many daily decisions. The closer one looks, the more crippling the decision-making, the so-called “Analysis Paralysis.” Part of the problem is that we are so attached to inductive reasoning as a crutch. We are a species that rely on generalizations to get by, for decisions often made on the spur of the moment: Where to eat, where to work, who to marry, which house to buy. This type of reasoning sometimes ends up with fatal results, as when people of a certain color fall victim to racial profiling.

Unfortunately, the vast cornucopia of knowledge that is the Internet, becomes a tool of malevolence, of disinformation just as quickly and easily as it can empower. Savvy politicians have been quick to capitalize on this, as was evident in the 2012 Elections. Mitt Romney found out the hard way that any unvetted, off-the-cuff remark, if deemed inappropriate to one demographic or another, could be twisted and turned around, making him appear to be a churlish buffoon. By contrast, Barack Obama hardly made any glaring mistakes that would have put him in the same category. Politics is perception, and the Internet magnifies all of it.

Racial profiling and politics aside, we alone are responsible for whatever we choose to do, with whatever we seek out. We did not have much of a choice with previous media such as radio and TV, when governments and other institutions force-fed us. That is not so with the Internet. However, we must exercise more care in choosing. the Internet enhances a lot of perceptions, in general; but it especially amplifies our own beliefs and biases. That is because we look for the things we want to look for, instead of the things we need, in order to make balanced decisions. While it’s true that we have but a finite amount of time to deliberate, to choose, it is still our responsibility, as consumers of content, to be impartial, to have an open mind, to hear as many sides of the equation as possible. We must not delegate our judgment to our own personal preferences. That will often mean stepping outside the box to see the bigger picture. Even if that means shutting off the box that connects us to the Internet.

Copyright © 2014 The Anabases

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