If you’ve spent any time on social media, you’ve probably experienced what I jokingly refer to as “Gargling” which is the tendency for people who know very little about something to “Google their argument” when debating issues on sites like Facebook. When backed into a corner, they abandon rational discourse based on any solid personal understanding of the topic at hand, and merely cherry-pick search results that support their argument. This phenomena seems to be happening in all sorts of contexts; whether discussing politics or even movies over dinner, we turn to Google as the oracle of all that is true.
The danger here is of course that “data” does not equal “facts”; simply re-transmitting information is a far cry from understanding it or being able to find any “truth” in it. We seem to be witnessing a collective rejection of reason and objective truth, in favor of the centuries-ago abandoned human preference for choosing information that aligns with our beliefs. This is most evident in the case of something like “climate change”, where we have millions of people choosing to believe their favored politicians who say it doesn’t exist, when the only people capable of understanding if it does – i.e.: scientists – assure us that yes, it does indeed.
The upcoming title The Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data (by Michael Patrick Lynch, author of In Praise of Reason) endeavors to explore issues like this. As Lynch points out: “The Internet is the best fact-checker and the best bias-confirmer ever invented”. Or, as the publisher notes put it:
“While a wealth of literature has been devoted to life with the Internet, the deep philosophical implications of this seismic shift have not been properly explored until now. Demonstrating that knowledge based on reason plays an essential role in society and that there is much more to ‘knowing’ than just acquiring information, leading philosopher Michael Patrick Lynch shows how our digital way of life makes us overvalue some ways of processing information over others, and thus risks distorting what it means to be human.”
Look for The Internet of Us on Amazon March 21.