It’s a treasure trove of information, all at our fingertips. Times have changed, and technology along with it.
Gone are the days when to find out a fact, you’d have to go to the library, and comb through stacks of books. No matter the search engine, just click it, type it, and see it. Anything that you wanted to know, pages and pages of it, free for the taking with little effort. But that instant gratification could be costing us in other ways.
“People are empowered by information, they make better judgement decisions for themselves, they make better decisions for their fellow human beings if they’re in possession of more information,” says Harry Lewis, author and professor at Harvard. Information can make us a more informed society, but not if we don’t digest it. According to Lewis, we are in a world of informational obesity.
“There’s no shortage of information out there, the question is, whether people appreciate it, value it, take the time making judgements about what is worth having and what is worth ignoring. That requires education, not just passively accepting whatever is easiest to get,” Lewis says.
But the access to information is all around us. Computers, mobile devices, can all be distractions to enriching experiences that can’t be found online. “They put down ‘War in Peace” or whatever they were reading to get this little trivial atom of data, but the immediacy is so seductive that you get interrupted,” Lewis says.
A recent study showed that google is responsible for 30% of the traffic on news websites. The site accounts for 70% of the internet searches done in the US. While the search engine is king when it comes to dishing out the data, it’s up to us to figure out whether it’s reliable. “The cost of producing and disseminating information has dropped down to zero.
Information that never used to be possible to publish because it actually required finding a printer who would print books and people who would buy the books or newspapers or what is the garbage in now as cheap to disseminate as the gold is,” Lewis says.
For the younger generation, those who’ve always grown up connected, some say teaching them how to sift through what is fact and fiction is a must in our tech-obsessed society. “Start education them from the earliest possible time about how to tell what is a good source on the internet and which ones you should be suspicious about,” says David Weinberger, author and researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. So the good old card catalog may not even be part of our research processes, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, provided you know what you’re doing.
Some think we could actually be smarter because of the global connection all this online information gives us. “We recognize that having very quick access to not just to facts, but to information and ideas and this continuing worldwide argument and debate and discussion that this actually does make us better at the tasks of intelligence,” Weinberger says.