It's Not The Internet Making People Dumb... It's Other People Who Benefit From You Being Dumb
from the agnotology-at-work dept
So what's going on? Clive Thompson checks in with a fairly compelling explanation. He points to research done by Robert Proctor, a science historian at Stanford, who coined the term "agnotology" to explain the phenomenon of ignorance increasing with the spread of information. But it's not the fact that information can be spread more easily that's at fault, but that there are special interest groups who benefit tremendously from that ignorance being spread. Thus, they make use of the same tools that most of us use to try to spread legitimate information to spread propaganda -- and it often works. Sometimes, it goes to an even more ridiculous level, where they purposely spread ridiculous information that's similar to legitimate information, just to make people stop trusting anything, including the legitimate information.
Of course, there's an immediate next question: can (and should) anything be done about this? Thompson suggests that collaborative tools like Wikipedia that are built through consensus are actually quite good at combating agnotology -- though, I would imagine that the internet-is-making-us-stupid supporters of the world (who tend to be Wikipedia-doubters) would disagree. They tend to prefer "official" sources of truth, though I think history has shown those to be just as prone to propaganda forces as well. In the end, much of it comes down to the individual level: how open are they to actually learning the truth vs. merely looking for facts that support pre-held opinions. One thing you can't change easily is how open people are to new ideas.