The internet has revolutionized the modern world in countless ways, transforming how we communicate, access information, conduct business, and shape society.
- It’s made it possible for people to communicate with each other in real-time and regardless of location. In turn, this has led to a more connected world where people can easily keep in touch with friends and family who live far away.
- The internet has also made it possible for people to access information on a variety of topics at the click of a button, which has led to increased knowledge and understanding of the world around us.
- Business has been revolutionized, making it possible for people to buy and sell goods and services online. Moreover, the rise of e-commerce has made it possible for small and home-based businesses to reach a global audience.
- The internet has made it possible for people to create, share, and access educational resources from anywhere in the world. This has led to the democratization of education and made it possible for people to learn new skills and gain knowledge without ever having to attend a formal classroom.
- Social and political change has accelerated, with people able to organize and mobilize around social and political causes in ways that were not previously possible. And social media platforms have allowed people to connect, share information and ideas, and mobilize for collective action.
- The internet provides individuals with access to endless entertainment options, including music, movies, and video games—all without ever leaving their homes.
- Patients can access their medical records online, communicate with their doctors, and even receive home-based treatment and consultations.
- The internet has made it possible for researchers to collaborate and share their findings and results with others, leading to a faster pace of scientific discovery and innovations.
The list is long—and no doubt I’ve missed a few things too.
But it’s not all good.
I Read It Somewhere—It Must Be True
Paradoxically, the aggregate effect of all the positive things above has crippled society in ways from which we may never fully recover.
Quite literally, EVERYONE has a voice.
And that means two things:
- An explosion of misinformation
- A guarantee of confirmation bias
Confirmation bias is the tendency for people to seek out and interpret information in a way that confirms their existing beliefs and hypotheses, all while disregarding or downplaying information that contradicts them.
But where does this tendency come from?
One reason is that the human brain wants to quickly process and make sense of a vast amount of information, and it does this by creating mental shortcuts, or heuristics. These heuristics allow us to quickly categorize and understand information—but they can also lead to errors in thinking and decision-making, such as confirmation bias.
Another reason for confirmation bias is that it can serve certain evolutionary advantages. For example, being able to quickly form beliefs and make decisions based on limited information would have been useful in ancient times when making decisions quickly was a matter of life or death.
In addition, sticking to our beliefs and being resistant to new information might have been an advantage from the social perspective, as it can foster cohesion within a group and encourage cooperation.
Additionally, confirmation bias is reinforced by various aspects of our social environment—such as our upbringing, educational background, religion, culture, and the influence of media and political forces that can shape and strengthen our beliefs.
And last, but by no means least, it is human nature to seek consistency and stability in our beliefs. That is why our brain often dismisses information that contradicts our existing beliefs and preferentially processes information that confirms them.
So the cycle becomes:
- A person has preconceived ideas, notions, biases, and beliefs.
- That person goes online and shares said ideas, notions, biases, and beliefs.
- That same person seeks out and consumes content that supports and validates said ideas, notions, biases, and beliefs.
- The person ignores, derides, and discredits EVERYTHING that runs counter to their ideas, notions, biases, and beliefs.
And the internet—combined with a shroud of relative anonymity—feeds this cycle exponentially.
This makes it harder and harder to break the cycle, as biases and misinformation are reinforced faster than they can be challenged and broken down.
So, where am I going with this?
What’s My Point?
If you think I’m pushing for regulation, you’re way off the mark. Because frankly, the less “help” we get from the government and politicians, the better off we’ll be.
And I certainly don’t want to curb people’s freedom of speech. Hell, I only get to share these thoughts as a direct expression of those rights, and for good or evil, the internet allows me to be heard.
What I am pushing for is CRITICAL THINKING.
That is, the use of reasoning and logic to evaluate information and to separate facts from opinions and biases.
Critical thinking encourages you to:
- Recognize and question assumptions, and identify the strengths and limitations of a given argument.
- Analyze and evaluate evidence, and distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information.
- Identify and evaluate the logic of an argument, and recognize logical fallacies (like ad hominem, strawman, false dilema, etc.)
- Consider multiple perspectives and understand the complexity of the issue in question.
- Make informed, unbiased, and rational decisions based on the available information.
Which all sounds quite reasonable, doesn’t it?
Critical Thinking Is … Critical!
Unfortunately, recognizing when critical thinking is needed versus just accepting information as fact can be challenging.
So when you come across a piece of information that might be considered a fact, it’s important to question its validity, examine the evidence presented, and look for alternative explanations and perspectives.
Critical thinking also requires a healthy dose of skepticism and curiosity.
For instance, you could look for multiple sources to confirm the information or look for scientific studies or experts that might support (or refute!) the claim.
And if the information is an opinion, it’s important to look at the reasoning behind it and weigh it against other perspectives and opinions.
Regardless, it’s a challenge—even for those individuals that would argue they ARE critical thinkers.
But at the end of the day, critical thinking is a skill, perhaps even an art, and needs to be practiced regularly—especially when the stakes are so high.
To your critical thoughts!