Grappling with Truth in 2020
One of the most defining characteristics of the modern world is our capacity for sharing, interpreting, and economizing information. However, the discussion of modernity is even less straightforward today as we reflect on the vast changes that have taken place just over the last decade. During the mid-2000s, burgeoning tech companies such as Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter set in motion what would become the standard of mass communication that billions of people across the world use currently. In hindsight, it is tempting to think that whatever we have today was the intended product of these original technologies. But like most leaps in innovation, the future of technology is sure to be fraught with unintended consequences. It is because of these consequences that society will suffer a general lag between cultural adaptation and the full expression of these technologies.
When automobiles first hit the market in the early 20th century, citizens were speeding around recklessly, smashing into each other as well as many unsuspecting pedestrians. We were unable to see at the time what could have been more possible or relevant beyond the mere function of the automobile itself. Of course, we eventually had to build a supportive infrastructure and a system of laws to ensure public safety while holding these industries accountable for their products. Today, most people could not even begin to fathom living a life without cars and public transportation. Similarly, information sharing technology has become a large part of who we are, and it is troublesome for most younger people to imagine how the world churned along before the use of cell phones, laptops, and social media.
Integration of technology goes even deeper than simply becoming ubiquitous products that we all utilize for one reason or another. The invention of Gutenberg’s printing press, for example, was initially conceived as a way to mass produce written content which would eventually give rise to what we know today as newspaper and magazine publications. What most history teachers fail to cover in regard to this innovation was not only how it enabled hundreds of thousands of people to become literate in a very short period of time, but it also radically changed how individuals think – including the very structure of our brains1. We were finally able to engage with our thoughts without the burden of some external authority safeguarding what knowledge there is to be had. In similar fashion, cell phones and automobiles can be thought of as extensions of ourselves (limbs or apertures) that enhance our ability to become free agents in the world.
Describing how we communicate today would sound like telepathic wizardry to someone a hundred years ago, and what may seem like a slow-drip progression of technology from the Gutenberg era and the industrial revolution is actually a series of abrupt moments in history that no one could have predicted, punctuated by shifts and groans of society as it attempts to either accept or reject the new organ. Today, we find ourselves in a similar predicament to those who helplessly slid around in their Model-T’s during the 1900’s. If the value of these technologies is predicated on the relevant use of information sharing, then there is no doubt that we have all the horsepower we could ever ask for. What we seem to lack is the torque and finesse to handle the end product of billions of people simultaneously providing input at any given time. The next major obstacle is how we answer the question of what is relevant, who decides what is relevant, and if the network as a whole should be regulated by governmental, public, or corporate entities. What I see right now is an extreme polarization in response to this question as tech giants make unabashed attempts to censor information while the public begins to form its own unspoken formalities of use.
It was only about 5-10 years ago that the comment sections on YouTube were a well-known repository for people with the biggest chips on their shoulders. Anonymity gave them the uninhibited courage to harass and harangue each other endlessly over minutiae that often had little relevance to the subject of the videos. Fast forward a decade and things have drastically improved on that front. This was not because of some new imposing restriction that would be fleshed out in YouTubes’ terms of service, rather, it was a spontaneous cooling effect whereby more stable temperaments were brought into the fold and began to act as a natural immunity against the riff-raff - ultimately setting a new precedent for online conduct. While we were able to largely overcome the problem of character online, the intensity of discussion never really left us. It has instead taken the form of “truth-based” competition for resources and real estate within this new public square. In the fight for facts and truth, where do we make the distinction between free self-expression, perhaps even in the artistic sense, and the authoritative nature of disseminating consequential information? This appears to be one of the more chaos-filled dilemmas of our time – especially considering that concepts like ‘freedom of speech’ don’t apply to the vast majority of nationalities and yet we find them thrown into the bunch with the rest of us as we struggle to develop a set of ethics on the new global stage.
The prospect of uncovering something useful or relevant to us can often become outright paralyzing in the face of limitless options, placing undue stress on the brain as one of its primary cognitive functions is to restrict the flow of complexity that comes from the outside world. What was originally intended as a platform of ideas and search queries to accommodate this inborn feature became something of a dizzying menu in which the average person struggles to make any meaningful choices or contributions. All of which is to say there is little incentive left for the acquisition/creation of quality information by virtue of how difficult it is to pick out a signal from the deafening hum of global chatter. On the other end of this madness exists a demand for grotesquely abbreviated content as the average user cannot be bothered to spend more than a few minutes ingesting a single article or video. Short-form content makes up the majority of the information that is consumed day to day across the world. Many will try to gorge themselves as they frantically scroll through their newsfeed, trying to keep up with the firehose of information but are never satiated.
Just as well, money and greed has always been a driving factor in mainstream news outlets that existed prior to the technological revolution, however, when the full breadth of this technology makes contact with market forces, the unreliability and unclarity of information soars to new heights….In conclusion of this topic, there is simply too much of nothing.
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1. Carr, N. G. (2010). The shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains.New York: W.W. Norton. MLA Citation. Carr, Nicholas G.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.