1983 was the official dawn of the Internet. By 2010, humankind could Tweet from space. The Age of Information is upon us. The rapid spread of the internet has come with incredible gains, but as with anything brand new, growing pains have also arisen. On top of the obvious concerns regarding data privacy, hacking, and social isolation, there is an often-overlooked side effect to the societal staple- internet users are getting too smart (or so they think). Infinite amounts of information regarding virtually (no pun intended) every topic are available just a Google search away. This has made an insurmountable amount of good in this world over the past few years, but we often neglect the social implications it has. The “I know because I looked it up” attitude is one that plagues every field, be it self-diagnosing thanks to WebMD or boasting a deep understanding of political tensions because of Twitter news.
The self-righteousness that the Internet creates has formed deep societal divides between experts and aspirants, which will only get worse if as a society we do not examine our know-it-all tendencies. The comfort of answers being at our fingertips has created a complacent public that lacks the desire to find truthful and correct information and instead the most readily available. The seemingly small blip is ultimately the base for the spread of misinformation, fueling the flames of information warfare to spread.
One of the most prominent and easily identifiable instances is the common practice of self-diagnosing. Think: When you have a rash, your first thought is usually to look it up online. Without fault, Dr. Google says either to change your laundry detergent or point towards a brain tumor. The dangers of this are logical- someone may push off seeing a doctor for a potentially harmful disease because they are content with the answer the Internet gave them. We lean on the Internet as a substitute for actual experts.
The issues do not stop at health. The arguably more pressing issue is one that troubles the world of politics. Twitter is the battleground for these fights between activists, academics, and everyone in between. During the beginning stages of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many political pundits switched their narratives from being domestic policy experts to geo-political virtuosos. They crowd the way for real, adept voices to speak on matters where they could make a real difference. Instead, having a lot of mid-level experts talk, simply creates an echo chamber of recycled ideas, congesting the already teeming field.
The Russia- Ukraine war has put this issue at the forefront of people’s minds. Videos on TikTok surfaced, apparently showing a city in Ukraine being bombed. The video reached millions, causing a great outcry, but it was later revealed that the video was of the Beirut Port blast of 2020. There are countless cases of this, especially regarding the invasion, heightening an already volatile situation. By bolstering citizen awareness with false accounts, ramifications are inevitable.
If you are searching for answers, use the Internet as a tool, but not the backbone of your findings. What you as a “non-expert” are missing is the proper foundation to fully synthesize the information found. The access to information lends itself to the spread of fake news. We accept the top result but don’t search out the best.
The Internet provides us with answers, but in the end leaves us with one unsearchable answer: how can one be sure? Society is overall too dependent on what we see on the internet, taking surface-level research for years of experience in a field. Being chronically online numbs us oftentimes to the outside world, including going to experts as a first step. The availability of information has created a new problem- information is being consumed with little guidance, making way for misconceptions and misunderstandings of complex phenomena. The next time you want to give your hot take on an issue, think: am I speaking from experience, or are all my findings based on blog posts and Instagram reels? Taking information at face value has far-reaching implications that we are slowly starting to see emerge. This newest generation that grew up in the Age of Information has a responsibility to ensure that the media they consume is the most accurate as opposed to being the most accepted.