Disengaged Students, Part 7: Too Much Information Access?
In this 20-part series, I explore the root causes and effects of academic disengagement in K-12 learners and explore the factors driving American society ever closer to being a nation that lacks intellectualism, or the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake.
It’s no secret that we are living in an information age, one that has lifted data barriers across the world and opened up access to knowledge like never before seen in the history of modern humankind. On the surface, this access to information appears to be a democratization of knowledge – a way that more people can learn about more things in the fastest amount of time. In reality, though, the internet and all its interconnected technology has given rise to less effort put towards the pursuit of knowledge, and more energy focused on simply finding the quickest, easiest answer.
Is Shared Knowledge Best?
This growing challenge to intellectualism in contemporary America is grounded in a rapidly expanding access to information coupled with a complete lack of hierarchy based on expertise. Take sites like Wikipedia, for example. Such Internet sensations are victories for crowd-sourced knowledge that hypothetically offers more than one side to every argument, but they have bolstered the assumption that all knowledge is equal.
Wikipedia is known for allowing anyone, regardless of credentials, to post on its pages for the greater good of shared knowledge. Some other sites are less forthcoming about the credentials of their contributors. Businesses clamoring to improve their search engine rankings commission writing which is disguised as expert information but is actually designed to get consumers to their sites when a certain word or phrase is typed into a search bar. The writers are more likely to have expertise in sales writing than in areas of knowledge relevant to the products and services they tout. Customer review sites give peers an idea of what to expect from a particular product or company. In an ideal world these would offer balanced feedback, but in fact they tend to weigh heavy on the negative side; it is in human nature to warn others of danger, not to assure them that the path is safe.
More Info, Less Learning
While attempting to place more power at the fingertips of the people, the digital age is actually distorting the public’s sense of reality, blurring the lines between fact and fiction for many willfully ignorant participants. Just as the removal of limits on religious beliefs spawned many different denominations, some of which led followers completely astray, a limitless online community promotes misinformation on a regular basis. Even the information that is correct comes fraught with anti-intellectual challenges. The information that was once confined to textbooks, library visits or expensive encyclopedia sets is now just a click or brush of a touchscreen away. A child who is given everything from birth and never has to work for any of his possessions will inherently devalue those items. In the same way generations growing up with Internet access devalue knowledge.
While no one would argue against the convenience and knowledge that the Internet has provided on a global scale, ongoing use of its information predecessors is necessary in order to preserve intellectualism. At least some weight has to be given to information in order for the youngest learners to differentiate between well-researched, well-proven facts and the passionate ravings of people with no expertise or training on a particular subject.
If American children are to learn to think for themselves, they need more information than what can be found in a search engine, and they need tools with which to sort out and evaluate the information which they find. But what will make them want to take the long route to data when there are so many convenient shortcuts? That’s the question educators and parents have to broach if there is to be a semblance of any intellectualism when this generation graduates and starts contributing to American society.