There isn’t a ton of point to this post, except to grudge, I guess. Mostly because of what I find happening to the people around me. There is something that is rapidly becoming more valuable than gold and less valuable than dirt simultaneously — information.
Surely someone somewhere at some time railed against the information superhighway. Since we know Al Gore didn’t actually invent the internet (thanks to the internet, ironically), maybe he can claim to be one of the first paranoiacs to scream about the dangers of it… Though in truth, that honor should probably belong guys like Asimov, Crichton, and Bradbury… Google them if you don’t know them.
The intriguing thing about the internet and the connectivity that we have to it is that we can access almost any work published at any time with the click of just a few buttons… especially if you know where to look. As one smart individual said in response to the question of “What would be the hardest thing to explain about today to someone from the 1950’s”: “I have in my pocket a device that is capable to retrieving everything known to man. I use it to look at funny pictures of cats and argue with strangers.” Or, as another smart person once said, “people use ‘smartphones’ to do some really dumb $#!^“.
The problem that no one seems to be able to figure out, however, is the lack of editorial credibility that exists on the internet. The internet and associated e-resources are the single greatest repository of information in the history of mankind… which means it is also the largest repository of “bad” information (or “misinformation“) in the history of mankind. Now, before anybody gets too carried away, there has always been bad information out there. Aristotle was full of it, as was the Dark Ages, and the advances in science, biology and physics should not be underestimated. However, the advancement of technology also means that it is incredibly easy to pass off bad information as legitimate.
With Photoshop and a couple starter photos, you can create a handshake between our current president and Yasser Arafat at Camp David even though such a meeting never happened. Unless the poor sod you are about to show this picture to knows that Yasser Arafat died in 2004 while our current president was elected in 2008, the only thing that might impede your progresses in duping your friend is your skill with Photoshop. With a simple clip-art program and a little artistic skill with an illustrator, you can fake an official seal for a major university. Slap a doctorate abbreviation behind a name on the internet, and at least 6 in 10 people won’t even think to question it. Wikipedia is an open-ended encyclopedia that is completely user-edited— Urban dictionary is the same for the linguists in the house.
For something that is so revolutionizing the way we live, you would think more people would be more literate in the “dark side of information“. And yet, a simply trawling through the annals of Facebook will show a dearth of individuals who have fallen for a simple story with an evocative image, and are passing on some of the craziest ideas that not only have zero merit, but could also be disproven with a simple search in Google. A story starts with one strange person who has an axe to grind, who shoots that idea to every contact on their list. A percentage of those people go “OMG, that’s crazy! :-)” and post the same story to all their contacts and so on and so forth–and before anyone is really aware of what has happened, a story with no backing, merit or authority is being rubber-stamped by millions of people who are going “well, I assume (Person X) knows what they are talking about… lulz”.
“A lie goes half-way around the world before the truth gets its shoes on.” — Michelle Malkin
So now, take this idea forward. Academics are publishing articles, studies and analysis. No one is to say whether what they are publishing is actually ready to be published. Politicians are being offered more opportunities than ever to put their foot in their mouths (thank you, Twitter). Meanwhile, the Google+ Goons, the Twitter Twits, the Instagram Idiots and the Facebook… skipping that one…are lapping it all up like a marooned explorer in a mud puddle.
Hypochondriacs have access to more information to worry themselves over than ever before–including hypochondria (Thank you, WebMD). Paranoid survivalists can find each other online and combine conspiracy theories to make themselves even more paranoid than before (Thank you, 911 Truthers). Marginal subgroups of individuals can shout their platforms and network ideas louder and faster than ever (Thank you, Anonymous). And yet, no one seems to wonder about what this dearth of information is doing to us as people…primarily in light of how we handle information.
One of the inconvenient truths of being human — not to steal too much of Al’s thunder, but if he’s right about Global Warming, there won’t be thunder much longer, so what the hey — is that we have an ego. Ego: a near-idolatrous (or fully idolatrous, depending on the individual) self-image that graciously exaggerates our own character to near-Pantheonic heights. Thanks to ego, in the past we were always younger, thinner, healthier and better looking than we probably were; we’re fatter, older, sicker and uglier than we actually are now; and god-only-knows what is going to happen to us in the future… which is why it is so important to keep constantly stroking the old ego. Nothing strokes the ego like information.
Because the ego is demanding attention, the rampant existence of misinformation becomes incredibly dangerous. Imagine you are on a quest to find out “what really happened on 9/11/01”. If you simply go to Google and type in a targeted quest, you are going to find a slew of information all about how what “we’ve been told“, in actuality, “couldn’t have happened“. However, looking at the official explanation from the Fire Marshall, there are pretty detailed accounts of what technically happened as far as the authorities are concerned. Two polar opposite points of view, each pointing to a series of evidences. Which do you believe? If you are like most average people, you believe the one you want to believe. Thanks to ego, the one you want to believe is probably the conclusion you already talked yourself into. You see the evidence; you skim the argument and then accept whichever side you had already convinced yourself was going to be right. It happens all the time.
With three different 24/7/365 news services and a slurry of “news websites” varying in degrees of intelligence, bias, and integrity from TMZ and The Daily Kos all the way over to Twitchy, Ace of Spades and The Drudge Report, we live in a culture where it is the norm to be assaulted on a regular basis with information then compound that assault with social media and “online communities”. At some point we have to start asking if we are sacrificing quality in the name of quantity. Talk to anyone who has worked some kind of Quality Assurance job and they will tell you a simple truth– the larger the quantity, the more likely there is to be a screw up.
“We once thought ignorance was bliss. Then we invented the internet.” — Unknown
It seems that we are starting to bludgeon ourselves to death with information. Rather than a simple quest for “truth”, humans have taken quite well to merely accruing more information. We read books, websites, chatroom transcripts and more telling us of the new diet, workout or superfood, then wonder how no one ever knew such an easy and obvious insight before. Stores sell capsules containing plants we’ve never heard of before that supposedly have near-miraculous benefits… and when the people with the Ph.D’s tell us that the effects are psychosomatic (ie, the Placebo effect), we blow them off as idiotic putzes that are under the corporate thumb — because we know how we feel!
These InfoWars — since I tagged Gore earlier, Alex Jones needs to get hit at least once…equal-opportunity offenders unite — are fueling a very definite quest. Mankind has put himself of the treadmill of intelligence — some, quite ironically, in the name of escaping intellectualism — and is running himself into the ground in the never-ending quest to learn everything there is to learn and know everything there is to know so that mankind can reach his theoretical PEAK where ego is finally satisfied and every soul is a demigod…
For some, this is where the conversation should turn religious. “The only way to reach your peak is to turn to GEE-zus!” While there is some truth to that sentiment (the Bible is very clear that Jesus is the means through which the earth comes to its intended end of being the habitation of God), simply rediscovering our soul isn’t the solution to getting “off the treadmill”. Indeed, God made the universe to be explored and learned and found out about. The stars and the earth shout in no uncertain terms the attributes of an invisible Creator — which means that the knowledge to be gained from studying the universe is going to be about as near as physically possible to “infinite” as the God who created it is Himself infinite.
No – -the way off the treadmill is to simply admit that we don’t know…and some of it we don’t need to. I don’t need to know that eating 300% of my body mass in Sweet-n-Low every month for a year is going to give me pancreatic cancer– eating 300% of my body mass (currently, that would be about 700 lbs. of intake) in a single month is going to leave me with lots of health problems no matter what it was.
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? — Matthew 6:27 (NIV)
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. — Matthew 6:31-34 (NIV)
Here’s a challenge. The next time someone asks you, “So have you heard about ((insert new health fad))?” Just look them square in the eye and say, “Nope… don’t need to.”
It’s a dangerous world out there. There’s a ton of information to be gleaned and learned and parsed and shat on and whatever else you may care to do it. Don’t fall for the dumb stuff. I’m looking at you, mechanically separated chicken……
“But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”–Daniel 12:4 (NKJV)