Thursday, October 27, 2011

Does the Internet make us dumb?

Jonathan Kay, writing in Canada's National Post, considers how video could be oversimplifying political issues: "The political act of explaining why one likes, or doesn't like, a particular politician or policy once required thought and argument - effort, in other words. Now, it's so much easier: You just paste a single YouTube link to your Facebook page, and you're done. On to the next issue."

Kay cites two examples: a video made by "left-wing filmmakers" at a Sarah Palin book signing, and a video made by "Lazy conservatives who instinctively are repelled by the Occupy Wall Street movement, but can't be bothered to intellectually engage with the issue, ... ."

Kay goes on to write:
... I'm old enough to remember the early 1990s, a time when starry-eyed futurists believed the Internet would make all of us smarter. We would learn new languages, surf newspapers from around the world, cultivate international pen pals, become more enlightened people by exposing ourselves to different opinions. Twenty years later, it turns out that all this was starry-eyed nonsense: All we want from the web is to have our own ideological biases read back to us in the most hysterical and entertaining form possible - preferably with neat little YouTube links that we can pass around to our friends.

Experts call it the "confirmation bias" - our natural psychological attraction toward data or anecdotes that serve to support our pre-existing attitudes and bigotries. It's something that always has been part of human nature. But the combination of social media with cheap online video technology has turbocharged the confirmation bias to the point where rational political dialogue is in danger of extinction. ...
Is "confirmation bias" a problem? Somewhere, I've read that the internet is appealing because people can get their "news" on the internet without ever encountering a disagreeable opinion.

I never expected to learn new languages with the internet. I am able to read several newspapers. Years ago, the internet wasn't widely used; now it's available and used by a lot more people. The audience has expanded.

If it's any consolation, the "left-wing" video has been viewed almost 2,000,000 times; the "lazy conservative" video has only 200,000 hits, so far.

Jonathan Kay's complete post is here. By the way, the woman speaking in the "lazy conservative" video was a substitute teacher in L.A. She has been fired.


nswfm said...

I made an internet "pen pal" on lynnrockets' blog, thanks to Grifter Granny's post-plastic surgery trip to Hong, Kong and am smarter because of the friendship. So I'm going with no, it doesn't make us dumb. I've taken 2 years of classes from Nobel Prize winners, and I know my pen pal is smarter than the two professors are.

Anonymous said...

You either have the ability to think critically or you don't. The internet is a "cloud" of "stuff." It is more to sift through. There are a lot of distractions.