This essay was written by me, Brandon Nolet, in the context that I don’t think that the world has gone to hell, yet, only that when you clean your room, it always gets messier at some point in that process. That being said, there’s always that possibility of devastation.
You’ve seen the news, you’ve seen the Facebook groups, and you’ve seen the news about Facebook groups organizing real-life flat earther conventions. You might think with all the news about flat earthers that science is regressing and that we’re going back to the dark ages of information. You wouldn’t be wrong, but you wouldn’t be correct either.
Flat earthers are few and far between and they’re much rarer than you think. I’m sure in your group of friends you could find maybe 1 or 2 flat earthers, but not much more…unless you yourself are a flat earther.
The problem with the advent of the internet is that we’re now bombarded with information. We have access to thousands upon thousands of news articles that are constantly being churned out by the media machines that are owned by the likes of corporations that have a vested interest. There’s so much information available out there that we have to filter it in some way. When you filter through information though, especially in a casual way, it’s very possible to forget to do your due dilligence and research the information being presented to you as fact.
The unfortunate part of our biases is that we tend to internalize more vividly the negative things in our lives. This is probably part of our evolutionary process where we learn from our mistakes but what this presents as today is moreso a bias towards negativity. Our biases are hard to go against when the volume of information being presented is so vast. Our attention is directed more easily to sensationalist news depicting dramatic or problematic topics. This problem-solving center of our brain, however, doesn’t get used because there’s so much information that it’s hard to actually sit down and ponder the problems that face us.
Neverending News Cycle
You’ve heard about how the news cycle is constantly intensifying in speed and how the news never sleeps. With the internet, that’s more true than ever. Again, the volume of information we’re bombarded is so vast that we can’t stop and think about anything. When the next big controversy or news event occurs, our attention shifts away from the old and onto the new.
When this cycle repeats itself there’s a lot of emotional labour that goes to waste. People start working on discussion about a given issue, perhaps starts a campaign to fix the problem, but then the attention shifts in another direction. One starts to feel like with each new news event, that they have less and less power to make any sort of change. Nobody can focus on a single issue and get that single issue resolved when there are so many issues to try and resolve.
The more you feel like you have no power, the more you’ll rely on outside services. But…that last part is a post for another time.
Is it really that bad?
Some say yes, some say no. Some say it’s worse, some say it’s better than we think. I err towards the latter, probably, because I’m an optimist, however, I think it’s more complicated than better or worse. I think in certain areas like the flat earther discussion, it’s better than we think.
I think that there’s not as many people who blatantly disregard centuries of scientific evidence and millennia of philosophic discussion about the sphericity of the earth as we think. I think that because the internet has provided a way to congregate beyond the confines of physical space that we finally get physical space congregations of these people through their incessant campaigning.
However, I think there are enough people in power who blatantly disregard, or at the very least miscalculate/misinterpret the severity of, the science behind climate change to do some real damage. There’s enough misinformation out there and definitely a lack of policy, regarding climate change. This isn’t a post about climate change though.
The news cycle needs to shift greatly from the drama surrounding the misinformation towards the actual problem of misinformation. We shouldn’t care who is spreading misinformation (as in celebrities), we should care how the misinformation is spread, how to stop the spread, and how to integrate the critical thinking for that into our education system.
For a while now (too long) education systems have been focused on enlightenment and the regurgiation of information. It’s coming to a point where we’re so focused on the consumption of information that we forget how to evaluate that information with a critical mind.
I won’t go as far as to say that we’re being trained to be labour-intensive robots that do nothing but produce for the economy but I will say that that is the effect of many education systems that exist today. We’re trained to consume and the only way to consume at that volume is to rely on external sources rather than be self-reliant. Self-reliance is the enemy in a service economy. But again, that’s a post for another time.