We should consider ourselves very lucky. This is the Information Age when the world resides at our finger tips. The Information Age courtesy of Google has fundamentally changed the education landscape and the way we do research. And it’s mostly for the better. Google has leveled the playing field so that the rich and poor have equal access to the same treasure trove of information. It has become an indispensable friend. Google is the equivalent of Encyclopedia Britannica of the previous era except everyone has a shot at being an actual entry in the Google encyclopedia. But let’s step back for one second. Although we have more information than ever, have we become smarter, more knowledgeable and better citizens? Well, the answer is mixed.
One hallmark of an educated mind is the ability to think critically . It’s the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff. However, information overload, a term that best describes our current era, can make it increasingly difficult to identify truth from fiction. In an age when anybody with access to a computer and internet can draw a large audience, source check can be an issue. In an age when alternative facts are not just the nonsensical ramblings of a social outcast but the daily script of politicians, what use is more information? Information does not make us smarter. Information is in fact dangerous because the cyber world lacks a critical thinking filter. The world wide web has become the wild west of competing theories (some with truth and some others are figments of imagination), hypotheses and assumptions. Whoever is the loudest always has their voice heard whether through Twitter or some other medium. Distortions not only mislead people, but also feed into their fear and anxiety. But all of this doesn’t matter anymore living in 2017.
Freedom of speech, three words ingrained in the constitution of every democratic country, has opened the door to a flow of ideas and rich conversations. Our precious Western civilization would not be the way it is today without the freedom of speech. But freedom of speech in the era of self-promotion, wall-building with the aid of Google has let loose more information than we can possibly process. The solution is not to restrict the freedom of speech. Rather, it is up to each of us to develop our own set of internal filters to critically assess each piece of information. Are conclusions supported by the premises? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each argument? What assumptions does the argument rely on? How do we poke holes in somebody’s argument? This is where universities can step in to do what they do best – teaching people the basic principles of critical thinking and in turn the right questions to ask.
We should still consider ourselves very lucky. Google has done more good than harm. There are more educated people today than ever, and it’s all thanks to the vast amount of available resources online for anyone who wants to learn. There are still billions of people who would give anything to access the same information that we have available in the West. But an overwhelming amount of information can also have a dark side. Most of us have already taken the important step of acknowledging this dark side. The second and final step is to put up those critical thinking filters.