Search engines are amazing. In Fifth Grade I had to write a paper on fireworks, and I remember digging through the local library’s index cards, finding the section in the Dewey Decimal system that I cared about, finding those books, and then reading them to get enough information to write the paper. By the time I was done, I could tell you what metals burned what color (magnesium is white, for example), how fireworks were packaged, and how a manufacturing plant managed static electricity to prevent explosions.
Now you can do most of this from your computer at home. I’m building a home, and a combination of Google, YouTube, and the local library has helped me design my house and ask my builder intelligent questions, like what sort of additives he plans on using in the foundations concrete. And naively, I thought most people use the internet for this purpose.
Apparently that isn’t true, and it’s more worthwhile to know about scaring cats with cucumbers.
So what’s the big deal? Let people just have their cat videos and be happy, right?
Well, we should be concerned. For starters, I’m shocked that the young people I lead never bother to Google the new place they are working. I had one come back from his Physical Health Assessment and the nurse told him he needed to lower his LDL cholesterol levels. He simply nodded and walked off, but when I asked him if he knew what that meant, he couldn’t explain it, or what he had to do to fix it. That isn’t a hard search to figure out, and while there is some junk science out there, it’s fairly easy to find ways to better your cholesterol levels.
We’ve made knowledge ordinary, to our detriment. Since we can look something up whenever we want, it seems to have become almost vogue to not know things. But knowledge is extraordinary. The fact that we can use our brains to process facts about things we can’t even see (like how electron levels make metals burn certain colors) shouldn’t be taken lightly. We are in a world surrounded by knowledge, yet we act passively and let Facebook, CNN and others feed us knowledge, trusting in them to get it right and tell us what to believe.
Considering my current YouTube feed, this notion should scare you. I’ve been watching hundreds of videos on topics like building science, concrete, framing and the like. But my YouTube feed on my TV continues to try and push Late Night TV and anti-Trump videos as “things I’d be interested in.” Huh? I don’t watch, and haven’t watched, any of this garbage, and yet that’s what is recommended for me, “based on my search history.” Riiight….
And that is the second problem of being willfully ignorant: you stop questioning what you’re fed. I don’t instantly get angry at what CNN tells me Trump said in a tweet or a speech. I go and read or watch it myself. In most cases I’m not scarred, or surprised, or really care, and only occasionally (like his speech to the Boy Scouts) do I think he did something poorly.
We’ve made knowledge ordinary, allowed a media to feed it to us without questioning their intentions due to laziness, and then let the folks that control Facebook and Google drive us down a belief path that we may not agree with. If you wanted to build a more insidious process to de-legitimize actual conservative values, I’m not sure if you could.