“We can tap into 50 million web sites, 1.8 million books in print, 75 million blogs, and other snowstorms of information, but we increasingly seek knowledge in Google searches and Yahoo! headlines that we gulp on the run while juggling other tasks.” — Maggie Jackson
I love the Internet and the unbelievable explosion in information that is now available to anyone with a computer. I love the fact that I can get immediate access to information that is not filtered through some self-appointed intellectual arbiter of what is allowed to disseminate through the public awareness.
But this same explosion of information puts an incredible responsibility on us as individual thinkers. At the same time we are drinking from the fire hose of information, we must take the time to reflect and think critically about what we are absorbing. We cannot assume that the garbage has already been rooted out by someone else. We can assume it has not.
We seemingly no longer have time to dive deeply into issues. We are distracted by so many different attention grabbers that we “gulp headlines” as Maggie Jackson describes it. The total volume of information has exploded and while some may disagree, I believe the diversity and quality of information has exploded as well. The ratio of quality to garbage may indeed be lower and there may be more dirt you have to shovel to get to them, but those diamonds are there for the mining. The increased availability of those diamonds has allowed me to make huge improvements in my own life in many different areas. I would never go back.
Unfortunately the critical thinking skills so important to navigating through this mass of information seems to be decreasing in inverse proportion to the availability of information itself. Instead of teaching critical thinking skills, our schools deaden the minds of our children with reams of monotonous facts that they will never use in the real world. Because almost anything but the most bland ideas will undoubtedly offend someone, almost nothing of depth is discussed. Because they cater to the lowest common denominator of “no child left behind”, they guarantee no child will get ahead.
Most places I land on the internet are dedicated to a hardened position and most people who participate there already agree and are simply looking for confirmation and support. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but rigorous intellectual challenges to those positions are unlikely to be found on such a site. Lacking those challenges, it is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that the mountain of information to be found there must have some validity. You will likely then be swept into the raging rapids swollen with the bodies of the true believers. If you are looking for confirmation, you will have no difficulty in finding it. We need to fight the tendency to embrace dogma of any variety.
Vigorous intellectual debate is disappearing in a sea of ever shortening sound-bites offered up by increasingly polarized participants. Fox News is indeed an alternative to the obvious left-leaning bias of the major networks, but it is no less biased in its own coverage. It’s just an alternative bias in a different direction. The attention span of the public is so short that an articulated position is almost never heard. Sexy and controversial sound-bites are offered up so the chanting fans of one position or another can hoot and holler their agreement or disagreement.
My own politics defies labels, but it is most accurately described as libertarian. As such I have little use for any of what floods the airwaves nowadays. I value liberty of thought and action in politics, personal actions, and economic activity over egalitarian results and social safety. A rigorous and articulate defender of liberty as an ideal is not often found anywhere. But I digress.
Very little in our modern world is simple and to articulate a position in a sound-bite is impossible. I watched Meet the Press on NBC today because I was writing this article and I wanted some real-time exposure (I can’t stand to watch mass media news anymore). I knew the subject would be health care because that is THE subject right now. The participants were all polarized opposites in maintaining their positions and I doubt any one of them had more than 2 minutes to speak at any one time. To articulate a well thought out position in 15 minute segments on a subject as complicated as this would be difficult. Nobody had a chance on this show.
You are reading a blog article right now. To articulate a well thought out position of anything controversial or complicated with all the inherent nuances is almost impossible in this format. The attention span of readers does not yield itself to 25,000 word articles. Commentators on blogs are commenting on so many different blogs and are so busy commenting and writing their own articles that nobody has or takes much time to articulate a reasoned dissent on anything that is written. That is why so many comments say “Great article! Thanks.” I plead guilty to this myself. I only have so much time.
So much of what passes for discussion anymore is simply a repeating of platitudes and that is true in my own chosen niche of personal development. This is tendency that we all, including myself, must constantly fight. Somehow we need to get to a more focused and vigorous discussion of classically great and new and original ideas.
Political correct standards of what is allowed to be discussed has turned our universities, businesses, and major media into promoters of pre-defined virtuous thought and behavior. You are free to express your opinion as long as it doesn’t conflict with the officially received dogma. If you dare to innocently offer a sincere and reasoned position that is not approved, you will immediately be flogged into submission. These public floggings guarantee that no further discussion of said off-limit ideas will occur in the future. Just ask Larry Summers president of Harvard University. Were it not so sad, it would be almost comical that the most vigorous proponents of “diversity” seem to be the most strident in their calls for enforcement of politically correct thought.
Am I pining for “the good old-days”? Not really. All of this information and technology is a good thing, but somehow we need to make time for the attention and focus required to dig deeper into it. I know this article rambled but I hope it prompted you to think about the responsibility we all have to think for ourselves. Let’s not get so busy that we just mouth the same old tired platitudes as a quick way out. It’s tempting and it’s very easy to do. Let’s take time to to think deeply and reflect wisely. Let’s keep an open mind and allow others the respect of offering up a reasoned dissent without shouting them down whether in town hall meetings held by Democrats, when a conservative speaks at an American university, or on our own web sites. Let’s not prohibit certain lines of thought because they may lead to difficult conversations or violate some pre-defined proscription on what conclusions are allowed.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.
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