We May Be The Most Informed Generation In History, But A New Age Of Deliberate Ignorance Is Upon Us

I like to think about the past, and how people at the beginning of the 20th century imagined how the future would play out. They certainly experienced some of our most significant inventions - the birth of human flight and the invention of the automobile. The general consensus was that we would lead better and easier lives thanks to technological advancements like flying cars, automated shops and much more. I am sure many wished to see the future and be part of it.

Futurism has shown up repeatedly in popular culture. I love how the Back to the Future trilogy imagined the future – 2015. They got automation, virtual reality, video calls, biometric security, advertising and self-lacing shoes right. I'm pretty sure they also came up with the term "hoverboard".

Back to the Future II

However, they were unable to predict two major things we use in the 21st century – the internet and smartphones.

Well, no one in the 1980s would have believed computers would advance so much to be tiny, handheld, touchscreen devices that would give you access to the whole world. No one even thought that a worldwide connection would exist where text, images, and videos would be shared and fundamentally alter how humans interact. And I am pretty sure there would be boos and laughter if you tried to explain Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or even Snapchat to a team of the then tech gurus.

Can you imagine trying to explain Snapchat Spectacles to the coolest teens of the 1980s?

Smartphones are the shocker of the 21st century, I can comfortably say. In my final year of primary school, 2007, I had never seen a smartphone. I’m pretty sure I had never heard that term. In 2011, as I cleared high school, I had seen and heard of smartphones alright, but not a single person in my family had bought one. The smartest we had in the house was the Nokia X2-01.

But by the end of 2012, almost everyone in the house had interacted with a smartphone. That was the year I got one and everyone followed suit. They now define our lives. No one in the house stays away from their phone. People become sick when their batteries are dying and there’s no power. People become stressed when their screens crack. Or when the internet is acting up.

Smartphones have brought the whole world to us. We literally have almost any information we need in the palm of our hands.

We are in The Age of Information. Any event or happening in the world can be viewed from wherever as long as one is connected to the internet. Social media now defines the daily lives of very many human beings. If you are sick, stressed, bored, travelling, doing research, learning, etc., the internet is there for explanations, suggestions, entertainment and much more. Whatever you want!

In the age of information, ignorance is a choice Donny Miller

Ignorance is defined as lack of information or knowledge. But we use it many times to describe people who deliberately choose to disregard important information or facts.

With the internet and smartphones, one would expect much more from this generation. But somehow this is the age full of misinformation, unbelievable theories and outright stupidity, which is shocking considering all the information we are exposed to.

There are many things that make ignorance prevail in the age of information. When you consider Donny Miller’s quote you may be quick to blame individuals on their ignorance.

Yes, sometimes it is actually people’s fault they are ignorant. Ignorance comes from a lack of effort on the part of the individual. The people who apply the least effort are the most ignorant, with effort here being the desire to know, to learn and understand.

Alvin Toffler argued that the parameters for illiteracy have changed. It is no longer about reading and writing, but rather learning and unlearning. “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write", he says, "but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn… If you don't have a strategy, you are part of someone else's strategy”

Ignorance comes from many things:

  • Too much information

There’s just too much information floating around for us to take time and meaningfully process. What's more, people cannot easily pick what to believe and what to trash. Facts can be skewed to say anything and support any conclusion, with anyone able to pick and choose ‘facts’ to back up their findings on particular topics. This is why some are arguing that we are 'post-fact', meaning that facts are secondary, coming in to affirm opinions rather than inform them.

  • Groupings

People who share an opinion tend to group themselves into social bubbles, where they all believe the same thing. If someone disagrees with your opinion, you kick them out of your life quite literally by muting or blocking them.

Even as more information becomes available, it is treated as noise if it contradicts what they believe in, or confirmation if it affirms their existing beliefs. As a result, people close themselves into their groups and don’t get to access new information. You only get what you want or what you like.

The Facebook newsfeed knows what you like, and what you click on most, and that’s what it will give you. The Twitter timeline only shows you tweets from people you follow. And these are, most definitely, people whose opinions align quite closely with yours.

  • Education system

The educations systems are also to blame. Look at the Kenyan education system for example. A student has to take a couple of subjects with vast amounts of topics to be covered. Subjects that may not in any way necessarily impact their lives in the future.

The tutors will also shallowly cover these subjects. The aim being to pass exams. Students are therefore busy in school for 16 years trying to obtain certificates without receiving any education.

Education should stir up the urge of truth, of discovery and of possibility, something the systems fail at miserably.

  • Corporations

For-profit companies are also one of the causes of ignorance. Money runs the world. Companies will do their best to make anything the truth.

Can you believe that in 2016 many people, including the future President of the presumed free world, believe that climate change is a hoax?

Some oil companies for example, in their quest to make money will fuel any narratives against climate change so as to keep people ignorant about the truth.

  • I Know. I Don’t Care.

I will admit to not knowing very many things. The more one learns, the more one realises they actually don’t know. Knowledge is infinite.

But in 2016, very many people believe they know. Quick access to the internet and the constant need to show off makes many pretend to know. The belief of “I know” marks the foundation of ignorance.

There’s also the “I don’t care” attitude. Many think this is common with us, the millennials. Nope. It has existed ever since.

Those who can somehow make ends meet will not bother to vote or participate in discussions on the future of their country because they assume their lives are secure no matter what happens. With that, they remain ignorant about the vices the political class commit. They remain deliberately ignorant about the suffering of the poor.

The emergence of 'fake news', that is deliberately false or misleading information that gets circulated on social media, has been blamed for misinforming the electorate and leading to the rise of Donald Trump. Facebook, for instance, has come under fire for allowing fake news posts to appear alongside legitimate news on the site. Now Mark Zuckerberg has said they are working on it.

Fake news is far more likely to go viral than legit news, meaning that millions of people will quickly believe something because it has been shared on the internet.

Instead of helping do away with ignorance, the smartphone revolution has somehow helped encourage it. Social media platforms may fight fake news but they cannot win the war against what people choose and want to believe.

Our interactions with people – the groups we close ourselves in, our daily routines and the content we choose to access on our smartphones - will forever determine what we know and what we believe.

Humans of the 21st century need to learn, unlearn and relearn. However, it's not a given that everyone will go down this path. If you choose to stay in your cocoon, you are likely to find others who support your limited worldview, and together you can choose to remain ignorant.

The internet gives us many versions of the truth. Choose what you want to believe.

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