Thursday, February 3, 2011

Why Think When We Have The Internet?

Many scholars believe that 500 years from now they will refer to the late 20th and early 21st centuries as the Information Age. To a great extent many people refer to the present in that fashion, which might be symbolic of how different this age may be compared to those that came before. Do you think that anyone sat around a campfire about 5,000 years ago and said, “Hey, we are living in the Bronze Age. I can’t wait to see what is coming next; the Stone Age must have really sucked.” This is a time in our history when very strange and interesting things are happening that will have a lasting effect on humanity. We are so integrated into our own lives that we have already identified the age we live in! But what does it all mean?

Many scholars focus on computers and the use of the Internet when describing the age we live in. But I think there is more to it than that. There are fundamentally three events happening right now that have never happened simultaneously since man first walked the Earth. These events could be summed up as the abilities to instantaneously document, distribute, and access information.

The first event is the ability to document (record) information. This ability has been around for almost as long as man has been using tools but has limited usability without the means to disseminate the information. Some of the earliest means of documenting information were placing symbols on objects. The placement of symbols might be using blood or other fluids to make paint and then applying the paint to cave walls, pottery or any other object where the distribution of information could be useful. Sometimes the information might be as simple as letting others know who the object belonged to whereas other uses could be to try share the story of an event. These primitive recording devices pale in comparison though with today’s technology. We can now digitally record almost any event using sound and video at the same time and make this recording as the event is happening. The digital information can easily be copied and each copy is the same exact quality as the original. So perhaps the ability to document information is not as impressive as it has been around for almost the entire existence of thinking man – but we have come a long way in the amount of time it takes to make such a recording. Just think about how long it would take me to write out this article using a stone and chisel!

The second event is the ability to distribute information. We now have the means to transmit information to any person at any place at almost any time. This literally means that with our technology a person who is visiting a “lost tribe” in the African savanna could be informed within 30 seconds of an event occurring in a small town on the other side of the world given that the sending party and receiving party have the right electronic gear. For the sake of conversation let’s say that the event is the birth of a baby boy and the interested party out in the savanna is the boy’s uncle. As recent as 120 years ago it would have taken several days in the absolute best of circumstances for the new uncle to have received the information. Today he could be called directly from the hospital on his satphone (satellite phone) as the umbilical cord is being cut. He could hear the baby’s cries as it takes in its first breaths! Just take a moment and think about this, let it sink in. Man has been on the planet for over 200,000 years and yet for the first time since man first began to speak we have instantaneous communication across the entire surface of the planet!

The final event is the ability to access all of this information. Gone are the days where you would have to spend several hours in a library researching card files in order to gather enough information to begin actually researching a specific subject. As recent as 30 years ago you could spend an entire day in the library just gathering sources for your research without having conducted any actual research. Two thousand years ago it was common to spend several weeks in a library just to find a specific topic. These days you can literally sit down at a computer and type in your subject and within minutes know everything you could possibly want to know about that particular subject. You need to be aware though – just because it is on the Internet does not mean it is true.


One of the largest problems we have today though is the misuse of information. This is not a new event as humanity has been misusing information almost since it first began to communicate. But due to the “instantaneous” factor it has become very easy to not only give out false information in large quantities but for large populations of people to receive and believe in that same information. Let me give you an example by using a conversation that occurred today between me and a friend.

Due to the context of the conversation I am going to use a false name for my friend and as I did not have a recording device on me I will paraphrase the conversation. The key here is that the subtext has not at all been altered and I did not change anything that would affect the usability of this conversation to provide an example.

Peter: “I got roofied over the weekend.”
Me: “Wow, someone put something in your drink to knock you out?”
Peter: “No, it just blacked me out a little and made me say things I would not normally say.”
Me: “That does not sound like roofies. Roofies are Rohypnol and sometimes used in date rape. It knocks people out for several hours and causes short term memory loss.”
Peter: “Roofies are not Rohypnol. They are Rufilin. That is why they are called ruffies.”
Me: “That does not sound right, I am not sure I have even heard of Rufilin.”
Peter: “Trust me, I KNOW. I saw it in the movie The Hangover.”

Here are some of the problems that arise in the example. A person who I consider being relatively intelligent and experienced has derived their knowledge of a specific topic from a movie script. He was very sure of himself, to the point where I had to research it later once I was near a computer as he had created a certain amount of doubt in my own level of knowledge. After researching for a little bit I discovered that when they used the street term roofies (ruffies) in the movie they made up the name “rufilin.” This might have been due to an error by the script writer or it may have been intentional to show that the character lacked knowledge. Some people on the net even have the opinion that the director chose to use a made up drug name to discourage people from seeking out the real drug. Whatever the reason might be, the overall problem in this example is that a pop culture reference became a fact in the mind of almost any person who watched the movie and had no true knowledge about the topic.

So now that we are in the Age of Information and surrounded by almost as much bad information (non-truths) as we are by good information (truths) I would like to try help by clearing up as much as I can. My main goal is to share truth and to promote thinking in my fellow man instead of an instant reliance on pop culture or easily accessible web-pages. I hope you learned something from this article and I truly hope you will share this blog with everyone you know. I will try to add at least one article per week but there may be times where I might add three or four in a given week. So be sure to check back at least once a week.

No comments:

Post a Comment