When the Information Superhighway Leads to Nowhere
Posted on 09 September 2018
I love driving the information autobahn. I’m traversing it most of my day and night. The interconnectedness of individuals, ideas, and information are unprecedented in our modern world. The ease of access has been a tremendous resource for growing my business and earning my doctorate. Yet this road to enlightenment is full of bumps, boulders, detours, and dead ends that we must navigate wisely. So much information, yet so little knowledge; so much critical spirit, yet so little critical thinking. Frank Lloyd Wright said it best, “There is nothing more uncommon than common sense.” I hear many people lament how impossible it is to regain your brain and stay sane in an online world of denigration communication and misinformation.
One of my favorite quotes is by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” So why do we insist on picking up screeching social media villagers, political pundits, and editorializing reporters as our traveling partners? Is this really who we ought to allow behind our mental wheels? Is this what I pay my monthly internet subscription for? The answer should and can be a resounding, No!
As I stated earlier, the information superhighway has enabled me to achieve my educational goals. At the tip of my fingertips is access to cohorts and instructors, seminal thinkers, emerging knowledge, in short, the wisdom of the ages. A doctoral program is an exciting endurance run that teaches you how to research, write and think like a scholar. Critical thinking is not about making people smarter; it's about giving people a set of tools and techniques to think more effectively. So although I’ve gained a tremendous amount of knowledge in the last three years of my school, the most significant change I've seen in myself is in my ability to process information more tremendously.
When you wade into the existing body of knowledge so that you might add one new drop in the sea of cognitive consciousness, everything you write must be cited from a reputable, scholarly source such a research study or journal, i.e., no Wikipedia, USA Today, blogs, social or mainstream media, etc. Your hypotheses are built on grounded theory, and not hunches, feelings or emotions. My go-to response now whenever I hear something is, “If I didn’t read it in a peer-reviewed journal, I don’t believe it.” That doesn’t mean I don’t disbelieve it; it just means I’m not handing over the keys to my vehicle. I’ve learned you can’t just cherry pick the one or two sources you like, you must have combed twenty, thirty, forty different references from foundational thinkers to the most current research, to see where the roads of information intersect.
The next most significant thing I've learned is that I must disclose my researcher bias. I must share with the reader what I’ve accumulated in my life’s bucket of experiences and preconceived notions because no one can be completely objective. Try as we might, everyone brings their own assumptions and blind spots into the information gathering and processing equation. It takes an act of humility and self-awareness to lay all your cards on the table, but it is essential for transparency and full disclosure. It should be like getting your learner’s permit where you aren’t even allowed to sit in the seat until you prove you can recognize how your thoughts and behaviors might be a danger on the road.
John Wayne once famously said, “Life’s tough; it’s tougher if you’re stupid.” Stupidity is like learned helplessness; we don’t have to stay there. It takes work, but the alternative is to live in a constant state of ignorance or indignation. The information superhighway doesn’t have to be a dead end for your brain. Just be aware of the sources of the information you process and factor in their biases. If they are merely confirming what you already believe, you have detoured off the information superhighway and are in danger of running out of gas.
Remember that the words, "I heard," equates to false information. Remember that repetition does not equate to factual. Remember that anonymous sources never reveal their biases, let alone their names. You wouldn’t let a stranger get in your car; don’t let one get in your head. Speaking of stupidity, John Farnam has some great advice for avoiding violence that could just as easily apply to our virtual world as it does to the physical one. He said, “Don’t go stupid places. Don’t hang out with stupid people. Don’t do stupid things.”
The information superhighway can lead you to a more evolved mind if you avoid lazy thinking, research your sources, and search out divergent opinions so you can fully understand the issue at hand. A closed mind is a dying mind and, in this day and age, there is no reason why we should not be getting bigger brains and traveling the super highway together on a tremendous road trip every single day.