With the massive expansion of the internet and its daily use by many people, I was hopeful that humans as a whole would improve. Yes, we would be far away from an ideal society, but the change would be positive always, so no matter how small, humanity would improve. People would have access to all sorts of useful information, collaboration would go global and knowledge would propagate. I was very optimistic, especially as an educator. Good ideas would make people smarter, more open, and compassionate.
I had not considered the fact that most people do not listen to good ideas and good arguments. They just listen to people that are loud… I also extrapolated from my social cycle (academia) which values critical thinking, research and the use of proofs and data, and I forgot that a vast majority of people make “emotional judgements” and not logical ones.
Unfortunately, social media had been designed in such a way to reward fast paced, half-baked and most of the times, unfounded content if that evokes an emotional response. A meme about a conspiracy theory goes viral in minutes. Its debunking, most of the times done after serious research and thorough documentation, is deemed “boring” and has no effect.
While studying the inner workings of artificial neural networks for my research I met various people with insights from neuroscience. Through conversations with them and through some simple readings, I understood that when you listen, process, and internalize bad ideas you literally become dumber. And let me explain albeit with hiding many things under the carpet and oversimplifying.
Your brain, when faced with a new concept, makes new connections with already existing ideas you have in a very straightforward way. Brain matter is reshaped to form pathways or reinforce old ones. That formation is a physical, apt thing which might degrade over time or it might get stronger if similar ideas are processed. Thus, if you learn something untrue or bogus and you believe and internalize it, it becomes very hard to recognize it as false, independent of how many good arguments you are presented with. And to make things worse, the process of making connections is simpler than unmaking them. And then hearing more similar things makes undoing connections even harder.
Hence, I am afraid that for a vast majority of the population the rise of the internet and social media is very problematic. You can literally become a little bit more stupid every day! And ultimately this is exploited by smarter folks with agendas. Catering to misconceptions and creating a “following” easily leads to personality cults which will then be exploited for monetary gains.
Back in the day, televangelists recognized that power and made millions. Governments convinced people to start World Wars (I can point you to many good articles of why Nazi Germany is tightly linked to the rise of radio). Now, every person with internet access and a clever idea can exploit thousands. Alex Jones is such an example, and the lady behind the nonsense video plandemic.
She recently wrote a “book” about some sort of nonsense and found the perfect way to advertise it. And it worked! She is now a bestselling author of a bunch of crap! And I use this colorful language because, fun fact, it creates an emotional response and hence it is going to be easier for you to remember this. (Notice that sometimes comedians will have a well-placed expletive in their jokes to invoke that response and get you ready for the punchline … our brain is such a fascinating organ!)
I am not sure why I even started to write this, but I basically wanted to get the idea out. Be very critical of what you read. No one else is going to do that for you. Think before you form an opinion because once you start accepting stupid stuff, your brain literally molds in such a way for you to start accepting more of them. Soon enough you will be exploited without even knowing it.