A long time between posts (surprise, surprise), but I’m still thinking about it.
It’s a glorious thing that we live in a world where we have such easy access to so much information. Facebook, Twitter etc. has democratised information dissemination to the point where anyone, anywhere can share their thoughts with the world, and if you happen to get picked up by someone with enough followers, a thought that germinated in a quiet Central Coast suburb can burst into full flower around the globe!
It’s lovely that it is so easy to share my thoughts with the world, but there are costs to this convenience. It’s far easier to share ill-informed arguments and it’s just as easy to critique solid arguments in an ill-informed way. Let me explain.
2.1 Dodgy ideas
We’ve all had that brilliant idea at midnight, which, when dissected in the cold light of day, turns out to be a manifestly silly prospect.
let’s face it, sometimes we NEED a little time to let those thoughts ruminate, solidify and show their true selves. Sometimes we’ll find a solution, making it a better, clearer & more helpful idea, while other times we realise it was a silly idea to begin with and not worth broader discussion.
Put a keyboard (or mobile phone, or tablet etc. etc.) in front of everyone and all of a sudden we have the opportunity to share every idea straight away. The cost of this convenience is that we remove that wonderful break that causes us to consider more deeply. Sometimes people just make mistakes. Idris Elba shared on Graham Norton, the occasion when he went to text one girl and accidentally sent a suggestive pic to the whole of the internet. Google created a feature that allows you to recall an email that you just sent, this to amend that moment when you find yourself accidentally having hit “reply all”, or maybe sent an email about your boss to your boss.
The bigger danger is every crazy, ill informed idea we have gets spewed out onto our social media feeds, creating all kinds of excitement that we might not be prepared for. You never know who will read your posts, and it’s quite possible that someone a lot smarter than you will come across it.
2.2 Dodgy arguments
But here is where we hit the other great cost of convenience. Living in a sound-bite world, with reams of information flicking past our eyes every time we sit down in front of a computer, it’s much easier to make assumptions about what we read, then critique it without every really engaging with what we’re reading.
NPR had the ultimate example of this about a year ago, when they posted the question “Why doesn’t America read any more?” with a link to an article about. Literally thousands of people left comments berating NPR for making such sweeping generalisations and castigating them for making a verbal attack on the American people. The problem was, if you clicked on the link, this is what you found:
People were so quick to have an opinion on the headline that they read, that they didn’t bother to listen to the argument put forward.
I see it all the time (and I engage in it more often than I’d like to). You read a headline, you already have an opinion about a subject, so you jump in without actually engaging fully with what the interlocutor had to say. The upside of our connected world is that we can share much more information (and I need to be clear, it can also be good when we share unformed information and use online platforms to nut things out & discuss them), but the downside is that we appear to read much more, but we think much less about what we’re reading.
The answer? I don’t know. I guess for me, I’ve been trying to slow down my responses. I still bite sometimes, but I find myself asking far more often, “is what I am saying helpful? Have I thought through all the angles, or am I just jumping in with my own thoughts & ideas before engaging with the question?”
Maybe a good start is to say, “I won’t critique an article that I haven’t read all of”?