The internet is a seemingly endless ocean of information. As more and more people gain access to the World Wide Web, the data streams will only get exponentially bigger. 10 years ago the web was unbelievably big; today the amount of data is simply mind-numbing. The future holds practically infinite number of ones and zeros. Everything we have ever thought of, every single thing one could hope to learn is or will be available online. The sheer volume of data basically makes the internet as human as we are.
The first thing to remember when searching for digital knowledge is that what you find is probably incorrect. This in fact should be thought in elementary schools during media criticism class… which doesn’t exist but really should. Again: everything you read online is, if not blatantly incorrect, at least half-true. This should be everyone’s starting point. I know this might seem cynical, but… well it is. However, it’s the only approach that has forced me to verify what I’ve read. Too often I find myself getting excited over some new piece of knowledge only to find it incorrect after a short checkup.
One might think anonymity is a problem; that we can’t verify the credentials of the author. Or think that there’s just too much data to sort out the good stuff. No. The problem is us, the consumers and creators of information.
We are a sad cherry picking and circle-jerking lot that needs to learn to fight through preconceptions and prejudices. We are the ones that sneer condescendingly at social media memes and trends, just to take part in them the next minute (ironically of course). We need to learn to think for ourselves and create methods of digital learning. We need to realize that we are the ones in the way of our digital knowledge.
Despite (or because) of the huge possibilities of learning online, we tend to seek the company of the like-minded. This is normal from offline-life, but the scale of effects is different in the Internet. These gatherings quickly degenerate from discussion to circle-jerking festivities. Then the merry bandwagon often digs in to savor its superiority and cuddle with its self-proclaimed righteousness. Pity on those who dare to speak against the consensus, the digital wolfpack will tear them apart.
Most of the online discussion is heavily polarized. The difficulty of written discourse often leads to generalizing points and cherry picking information. Different online forums are too often deeply divided between black and white. Truth has already been decided by the loud majority, and real discussion is impossible in the cacophony of the consensus. From time to time the black and white bandwagons collide and only on the far extremities of the battlefield real discourse might happen between the two sides. There’s our hope.
Leave the bandwagon if your on one. Keep your poise if you encounter one. Embrace different opinions and good ol’ discussion. Find the middle ground with civilized manners. The more we web dwellers demand from ourselves when on the quest for knowledge, the easier the knowledge will come to us. We need to step outside our comfort zones and leave our foxholes. We need to learn to ask AND answer questions. We need to be critical, but also argue our criticism. We need to look beyond the subject line and relinquish our retorts. We need to work for our knowledge.
It wouldn’t be a quest if it didn’t involve trials and tribulations.