Echo Chambers and Angels on Pins

The internet is a high speed echo chamber with no end.

The tribes that have been created by people using the internet to find other like-minded individuals on one hand are great things.  It unites people and lets those who may be different from those around them find others in the world so that they are not so isolated.

However, the downside of this is the continuous reinforcement of belief through the constant tweeting, re-tweeting  and blogging of articles, essays, and screeds from and by people who agree with one another.  This usually ends up with a lot of discussions that seem to have no bearing on reality much less attempt to convince others of their truth.  It is akin to debating the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin; interesting to those actively debating it, meaningless to anyone else with a pulse and a brain.  This is the echo chamber:  the point where people write 1000 word blog posts that are speculations about theories that speculate on things that have not occurred yet.  This is then answered by 10 other people speculating on their speculation.  This happens a lot in political coverage.

The internet age has exposed the idea that you can have too much knowledge about any particular subject.  The internet not only exposes that, but it perpetuates it.  The internet is a glorious place that is an endless well of information, knowledge, conjecture, crackpot theories, experts, academics, frauds, and fear mongers.

The problem is that true knowledge and valuable information is almost devalued because it is in the same place as the conjecture and outright b.s.

Let’s say you have a cursory knowledge of something going on in the news, but you want to learn a little more about the subject.  You go to your computer and type in your subject in Google to search it.  You get 2 million pages of stuff.  Google ranks them, but you still don’t really know what is worth reading and what is not.

How do you decide what is true?  Do you believe the professor from Harvard and his website that has links to his book on the subject that he is trying to sell, do you believe the people power of Wikipedia, or do you believe the pastor of the mega church across the country in his interview posted by a news magazine.

Do you believe the person whom you are most like or do you believe the person who has the most annotated information (not necessarily facts) backing their ideas?  You do not have the time or inclination to spend four hours culling through the reams of information.  All you wanted to do was sound a little smarter than the other people at your office.  So, you read a few pages and make a few intellectual short cuts on the way to knowledge: You saw this guy on the Today Show so you’ll buy a lot of what he is saying; this article sounds like something one of your smarter friends said last week so you go with that.  Eventually, you come up with your truth.

It is no wonder people are starting to believe less in the traditional institutions that purveyed knowledge.  There is so much out there it is hard to know what the truth is.


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