In the modern age, the truth is obsolete. In fact, Youtube’s algorithm openly promotes the most alternative of facts. For those who don’t know better, this presents a problem.
We live in strange times. Objective fact is trumped by subjective fiction. The leader of the free world proclaims that criticism is false, and confirmation bias totes rulez. The current information spread is a smorgasbord, but while we adults know that we shouldn’t touch that shrimp cocktail that claims 9/11 was an inside job, we have the benefit of a fully formed brain. Even if we choose not to use it.
But what of our children?
I mean, they’re probably smarter than us. But what of our pre-teen children, those with the logic part of their brains scrambled by hormones and impossible body standards? What about little Bobby who now thinks that globalism is turning the frogs gay, purely on the basis that someone told them that it was true, because everyone was lying?
Youtube, bless it, is the bell cow for this generational consumption of pork pies. Not in what we watch, but rather, what we’re recommended to watch.
Earlier this year, Google announced a belt of tools to help people achieve balance in their digital lives, spurred by the majority of users who desired to re-centre their digital balance. Which is a very nice thing to say, but I’m not entirely sure what they are. The ease of misinformation is a soup ready for consumption. You don’t even have to give it a second thought. Much like sustenance, curiosity is a primordial force that drives us.
Take the JFK assassination as an example.
Say you’re you as a teen. Your life is recording Papa Roach off the radio and stealing $2 out of mum’s purse to buy a back of minties and two litres of that sweet sweet flavoured milk, because it’s 1997, and fuck you, inflation. Now while you might possess a permanent erection, you certainly don’t have an objective view of history. You’ve got that project due in the morning, and you’ve waited until the last minute to do it, (something you certainly don’t do as an adult, right), so you take the phone off the hook and log into the information superhighway to research it.
You don’t know JFK, but suddenly you’re intimately aware of what his brains look like. Bummer. You want to know who did this. Altavista says some dude named Warren said that Lee Oswald did it. But, there’s another link, totally capitalised. In it, there’s a man shouting threats. He’s as passionate as you are, man, and he’s far more convincing. Suddenly, everyone pulled the trigger. It was the CIA, it was the mob, it was Fidel Castro’s beard. So you continue to dive. Hours fall off the clock as you dive further. Who was Oswald? Was he a Soviet agent? Did Woody Harrelson’s dad pull the trigger on Kennedy?
Morning comes, and you take the zero. You’ve not completed the task, but suddenly you think that Stanley Kubrick shot the Zapruder footage as a prequel to him faking the moon landing. What your poor brain now knows, is less than nothing. It wasn’t even your fault, the algorithm lead you astray. But your teacher doesn’t care for your excuses, and sentences you to detention. Maybe she shot Kennedy? Where was she that day in Dallas?
So, you decide to not go to the skate park with your friends, you decide to find some new internet friends. Friends that agree with your Kubrick theory.
All of this is backed by science. A recent study by UC Berkeley suggests that feedback, rather than hard evidence, builds people’s sense of certainty when learning new facts. Simply put, what you feel, or are made to feel, trumps hard data. It’s why Pizzagate truthers exist. The volume of the criticism just further proved their point, and the latest headline is the thing to cling to.
Q&A smackdown: Brian Cox brings graphs to grapple with Malcolm Roberts https://t.co/x0Z4AzemfN
— The Guardian (@guardian) August 16, 2016
“If you think you know a lot about something, even though you don’t, you’re less likely to be curious enough to explore the topic further, and will fail to learn how little you know…if your goal is to arrive at the truth, the strategy of using your most recent feedback, rather than all of the data you’ve accumulated, is not a great tactic,” said study lead author Louis Marti.
Which is fair enough. But can jet fuel really melt steel beams?
That’s this weekend’s homework. See you Monday.