Bam­boo­zled by too much in­for­ma­tion

Mercury (Hobart) - - TALKING POINT - Where can the truth be found in our in­ter­net age, asks

has to be the most en­cour­aged gen­er­a­tion of youth ever.

They are con­stantly told that within them is a seed, which if nur­tured, will be­come the most beau­ti­ful flower of its type in the world. Or as the pop song goes: “I might only have one match, but I can make an explosion.”

The pres­sure mounts. Pre­vi­ously I high­lighted that we em­power this gen­er­a­tion to choose the path that is right for them. Now we tell them that if they choose the right path, think and be pos­i­tive, they can be the best in the world at some­thing. We sur­round them pos­i­tive peo­ple and mes­sages, and we pro­tect them from neg­a­tive feed­back so they can ful­fil their po­ten­tial and find their niche in life.

But there are seven bil­lion peo­ple on this planet. The chances that my child will be­come the best in the world at some­thing are not good. We fa­cil­i­tate un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions. Most will be or­di­nary, but or­di­nary is now an anath­ema.

It’s not just pos­i­tiv­ity that cre­ates un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions. Think about the in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia. Have you ever watched a movie trailer only to re­alise that all of the best parts of the en­tire movie had been com­pressed into two min­utes? So­cial me­dia does that. It gives us the im­pres­sion that every­one else is liv­ing a Hol­ly­wood life.

The in­ter­net also cre­ates an ego­cen­tric ex­pe­ri­ence of the world. Youth spend hours tak­ing the per­fect selfie to post on their page. “Likes” pro­vide in­stant feed­back which leads to fur­ther en­hance­ments.

The ego­cen­tric world goes well be­yond edit­ing our best self-im­age. The in­ter­net is full of sub­jec­tive and con­trast­ing opin­ions. The in­ter­net surfer be­comes the ed­i­tor of truth. It is up to me, the reader, to de­cide which pages I shall visit, to ar­bi­trate over the com­pet­ing claims.

We can do this be­cause the in­ter­net mud­dies the dis­tinc­tion be­tween truth and opinion. What­ever the sci­ence might be, the cases for and against cli­mate change look equal on the in­ter­net. What­ever the his­tory might be, I get to de­ter­mine if Aus­tralia Day was an in­va­sion

David Ri­etveld

or a bless­ing. What­ever the Ko­ran might say, I get to de­cide whether Is­lamic State is a re­li­gious or an ex­trem­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion.

We are bom­barded with opinion, some­times guised as in­for­ma­tion. We feel com­pelled to check the news to check if there has been an­other ter­ror­ist at­tack in Europe; if Don­ald Trump has sacked an­other staffer by tweet; if Kim Jong-un has fired an­other mis­sile.

What does one do with this con­stant feed of in­for­ma­tion? How and when do we process it? If diplomacy fails with North Korea, what are the other op­tions and their con­se­quences? Too much in­for­ma­tion, too eas­ily ac­cessed, leads to con­fu­sion, feel­ing over­whelmed — not to more knowl­edge, or wisdom.

The in­ter­net has bred a gen­er­a­tion that has a mo­saic of bits of in­for­ma­tion mixed up with opinion, but most will not have a com­pre­hen­sive world view. There is no shared co­her­ent over­ar­ch­ing story that un­der­writes all the anec­dotes of life. At best you write your own story, and worst you have a se­ries of nice but ul­ti­mately ran­dom events. All of this is deeply un­set­tling.

The in­ter­net is not just some­thing we ac­cess, it al­ters us. Winston Churchill said, re­gard­ing ar­chi­tec­ture, “we shape our build­ings, there­after they shape us”. Nowhere is this in­sight more true than of the in­ter­net. It is chang­ing the way we do fam­ily, so­cialise, learn, think, or­gan­ise and be­have.

To sum­marise, too much in­di­vid­ual choice, and the loss of shared wisdom leaves our youth feel­ing anx­ious, over­whelmed by the range and the mag­ni­tude of the choices they are be­ing asked to make.

We have fa­cil­i­tated ex­pec­ta­tions that they will be spe­cial, unique, the best in the world at some­thing. They are un­pre­pared for or­di­nary.

The in­ter­net only in­creases the fear they might miss out. In­stead of pro­vid­ing scaf­fold­ing for the con­struc­tion of a life and un­der­stand­ing of the world, it bom­bards us with in­for­ma­tion overload. David Ri­etveld is se­nior pas­tor at Vic­to­ria’s New Penin­sula Bap­tist Church and for­mer min­is­ter at Well­spring Angli­can Church, Sandy Bay.

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