THE 21ST CENTURY HAS USHERED IN AN ERA OF UNPRECEDENTED ACCESS TO INFORMATION, ALWAYS-CONNECTED DEVICES AND OFF-THE-CUFF OPINIONS.
The boom in user-friendly digital capacity happened in less than one generation. And social media, the emblem of this information revolution, is even younger. Equipping people to use all of this in a rational way is vastly lagging, however. This new world we have sculpted has started to reshape us.
SOCIAL MEDIA HAS RAPIDLY BECOME A FORCE OF ITS OWN.
‘Connecting the world’ through this vehicle has created a crisis in modern society. It facilitates whirls of irrationality, conspiracy theories, denialism, the derailment of the popular vote and radical polarisation. And it is addictive. The average American adult spends more than two hours per day on social media, and swipes or taps their phone 2,600 times.
An early investor in Google and Facebook, Roger McNamee, states that these companies ‘… assert with merit that they are giving their users what they want, where they want it. The same can be said about tobacco companies and drug dealers’.
Industrial dopamine targeting aside, the true dark side of social media has been its ability to get a huge part of the world to systematically distrust the institutions of science; to dismiss empirical evidence, ignore experience and discount validated sources.
Many people started living in their own ‘echo chambers’ – and their loyalty has been redirected and concentrated inside their own virtual cults. This bunker mentality goes much further than world politics, too. When you astutely listen around you, you observe but the tip of the iceberg of these belief-bubbles – in parenting forums, culture groups, nutritional scenes, exercise methods …
WE WON’T CHANGE THIS TREND AS INDIVIDUALS – BUT WE CAN MANAGE IT, IN THE INTEREST OF OUR OWN LUCIDITY.
It is possible to refuse ignorance at a personal level and embrace scientific literacy. We don’t need to be at the mercy of ill-considered declarations, tabloid celebrities, cable-news opinionators, faux intellectuals or fanatical ideologists. Similarly, the oft-repeated battle cries purporting to ‘tell it like it is’ or false equivalency discussions deserve neither our time nor energy.
WITH INTELLIGENT EFFORT, IT IS POSSIBLE NOT TO BE BLINDED BY OUR OWN FAVOURED CONCLUSIONS OR DIRECTED BY A SIMPLISTIC ‘BIG IDEA’.
It is a stretch to claim that any human is consistently rational. After all, our brains evolved in a world without science and sophisticated fact-checking. But that doesn’t mean we have to settle for favouring the limbic system over the cortex, and blinking over thinking.
Our new world of 24/7 voices in our pockets makes it important to at least take a moral decision to favour logical analyses over fallacies and dogmas.
Dare to question. Stay intellectually curious. Split people from issues. Welcome disconfirming evidence. Accept variety. Blunt out shallow opinions. Beware of gut feeling.
The internet is, at one level, the greatest gift to humankind. However, can also be a weapon of intellectual mass destruction. Ring-fence your sanity!