Gordon Smith

In the age of information, our ignorance is a choice

There’s an odd duality defining the information age, in that the more we have access to, the more ignorant we choose to be.

 

 

We are the most well-resourced, well-connected generations to ever exist.

If you so desired, you could make a friend in Azerbaijan while video conferencing with a relative in Singapore, all while looking up a recipe for fusion brownies.

Never in history has mankind had such abundant, and more to the point, easily accessible, information so readily available. So long as you are connected to the Internet, you have the ability to look up any term, at any time, about any topic.

All this can be done, all it takes is a bit of searching.

Or, to say it in more familiar terms: “just Google it.”

Despite this ultra-connectivity, and increasingly high-speed (unless you’re in Australia) Internet, ignorance still reigns king.

On any social media platform, at any given time, you can find your local unwashed masses debating the science of climate change because “how can there be global warming if I myself am cold at this time?”, or gleefully consuming the latest of steaming coils from the likes of Bolt and Devine by the spoonful.

“Homosexuality is unnatural,” they say.

“Women are biologically inferior to men, it’s a fact,” the echo chamber responds.

“Islamists are bringing Shakira law to our workplaces, I read it in the Sun,” a carefully crafted stew of capitalisation and excessive exclamation marks insists.

Now, most (I hope at least) readers will recognise these claims for the hogwash that they are. But that’s not the point.

Just as easily as those above have accessed their preferred columnist’s rant-laden editorial, they could see whether or not what’s making their blood boil is, in fact, the truth. Or even a loose interpretation of the truth.

Granted, a discussion of the truth’s relationship with the Internet is one fraught with pitfalls and asterisks.

Just as easy access to the web has provided users with better access to outlets, so too has it given users – crackpot and non-crackpot alike – their own outlet in which to make their voice heard.

And, just as one fly becomes many upon the turd on your driveway, those voices can quickly amass a very significant following.

Before long, those unwise words of wisdom transcend their existence as online hearsay, become Internet gospel for all those likeminded.

Worse still, the hyper-political nature of web browsing in the modern era has meant that even the way people define the truth falls along party lines.

Add in the bubble nature of how your average user interacts (or in this case, does not interact) with the world around them – specifically, the world around them consisting entirely of people from the same political persuasion – and you start to see just how people fall into the hole of misinformation.

If you can Google, you can fact-check. Put in the headline of the article into the search box, hit search, done. No results? Well, I think you’ve found your answer.

An article as fake as our nation’s concerns for climate change will find itself shared and shared again, passing from user to user, but never once catching the eye of someone who might actually take fault with any of its claims.

Much as we may decry the catch call of “fake news,” it is, unfortunately, a very real phenomenon, and one that has spread to every inch of this worldwide web.

That’s not to excuse a lack of fact-checking, however.

The very same quick and easy process you go through to find your questionable, agenda-fitting information, can be used to check whether what you are reading should have you feeling enraged or estranged.

In fact – several of them at that – there are entire websites devoted to the art of fake news shaming.

Snopes.com is perhaps most well-known, and over the years has taught me facts as important as Nic Cage not actually being dead, to the actual time it takes to digest chewing gum.

Yet even Snopes struggles in the current climate, co-founder David Mikkelson declaring, “there are more and more people piling on the Internet and the number of entities pumping out material keeps growing.”

“I’m not sure I’d call it a post-truth age but… there’s been an opening of the sluice-gate, and everything is pouring through. The bilge keeps coming faster than you can pump.”

Indeed, there are questions about just how much longer fact-checking services can exist in the modern era, let alone one that tackles even the most mundane of mumblings.

FactCheck.Org is another, having risen to prominence in recent elections. Think of it like Snopes’ older, more politically engaged, but slightly less interesting sibling.

It too has gone into overdrive in recent times, but it shows no indication of throwing in the (objectively reviewed) towel.

Regardless of whether or not a dedicated service exists, the process of fact-checking in the Internet era remains easier than ever.

It shouldn’t matter what your political leanings are, or whether or not you have an eye for a good news story: if you can Google, you can fact-check.

Put in the headline of the article into the search box, hit search, done.

Still not satisfied? Paraphrase. A story about Hilary Clinton stealing hundreds of thousands’ of dollars worth of furniture? Search “Hilary Clinton furniture.” Done again.

Better yet, if the piece of Walkley-worthy ranting before you has a quote from someone, search that very quote.

No results? Well, I think you’ve found your answer.

Of course, this doesn’t accommodate the ever-multiplying number of news-but-not-quite websites, each parroting the last.

If you’re still in doubt, check if a mainstream – or at the very least, highly-followed – source has any information. You may hate every facet of traditional media, but it can still be at least some use to you.


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More than just discrediting any excuses for circulating misinformation, the Internet has meant one very important thing: ignorance is a choice.

It doesn’t matter if a topic was never covered with you in school, or if your university degree was from an entirely different discipline; at any time, in any place, you have the ability to access more information than any human that has come before you.

Don’t understand the gender pay gap? That doesn’t mean it’s not a thing.

Still convinced Australia has freedom of speech? Again, lack of knowledge doesn’t make it a fact.

Arguing that changes to marriage law need a referendum? Three strikes, you’re out.

While you could say that ignorance has always been a matter of choice, it is all the more the case with the great advancements in technology that have been made.

Meaning that now, more than ever, it is not something we should be so quick to accommodate for, let alone forgive.

“I don’t understand” just doesn’t cut it anymore, if it ever did.

 

Gordon Smith

Journalist by day, cunning linguist by night. A passion for politics, hypnotically involved in human rights. An Australian born with a Japanese tongue, hoping to hold the big wigs in government to account.

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