Soapbox: publisher's perspective |

A Little Learning is a Dangerous Thing, Especially in the Age of Information

Soapbox: Publisher's Perspective | 20 August 2021

“A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.” Alexander Pope

With the increased access to information that the world has experienced in the new ‘Information Age’, the challenges for us individuals have increased as well, though we may not have realised it! When we were simple villagers living in the Middle Ages, our information sources were limited to the church, the local school and the town crier who infrequently brought announcements from the government, usually bad news! We had no access to any other information except through travelers passing through ie. good old-fashioned gossip

The only people who had access to further information and knowledge were the scholars in universities and libraries, and monks in monasteries. That was it, and all decisions were made based on that limited access. And they knew precisely how much (and how little) knowledge they had compared to their libraries!

Then came the age of newspapers,TV & radio, with ‘reported news’ which soon became divided into camps of opposing opinions and interpretations, with only a few institutions like the BBC, Kompas and The Times gaining the reputation for unbiased, factual reporting. But those days are gone forever with the internet providing access to all who wish to post to become ‘influencers’ and ‘thought leaders’, without expertise, qualifications or even reasonable levels of intelligence, and become the source of mis-information for anyone who browses and believes. And most TV news networks are now very much politically aligned as well.

That has brought with it three very dangerous corollaries:-

One
: that the information posted maybe either accidentally, lazily or indeed deliberately wrong. And by my estimation I would say that 90% of all posts are at least partially incorrect! Of which maybe 20% are meant to be deliberately misleading. So we need to be very careful. You just cannot trust anything anymore.

Two: we have become very lazy in our consumption of information. In ‘slower’ times we would read the entire article on a subject, which noted above would probably have reflected both sides of the argument fairly. Now we expect to get all the info we need in a single paragraph or a 30 second sound bite. We may have breadth of knowledge but we have no depth which quickly leads to bias and the bad decision making, which we are seeing all around us.

The third major problem is that people tend to only view, access or listen to information sources that appeal to them-and never listen to the other viewpoint! The Fox News viewers never watch CNN and vice versa so their ‘experts’ are very much ‘preaching to the choir’, and stand very little chance of influencing those with entrenched and opposing views, even if those views are based on deliberately misguided information or even worse online partial truths.

This gets quite astonishing with in some cases complete nonsense being spouted by sources like QAnonwho seem to have deliberately (we can only guess why) steered many thousands to dangerous and very misguided conclusions.

In this time when real factual information is needed –b y everybody-about covid, climate change, about the process of democracy, we urge everyone to open another door, listen to the other opinions, seek more information, fact check and try to keep us all from an information apocalypse, which could so easily lead to a real apocalypse.