How the Internet Encourages Idiocy

If you were raised on Star Trek, as I was, you may have thought that the Internet would usher in a period of global unification, shared knowledge and experience, a blossoming of humanity. If not an enlightened Federation of Planets, at least, maybe, a friendly Federation of Nations. A way we could all be pals! A tide to lift all boats!

Well, look around. Shipwrecks everywhere. Divisiveness and squabbling and terrorism and ignorance on a global scale. How can this be? Now that we have the potential to be united than ever before in the history of humanity!

An article on cognitive bias by George Dvorsky in io9 – an online zine that covers “science, culture, and the world of tomorrow” – offers one explanation for this troubling phenomenon in terms of confirmation bias:

“We love to agree with people who agree with us. It’s why we only visit websites that express our political opinions, and why we mostly hang around people who hold similar views and tastes.”

The Internet makes it easier than ever for lunatics, wackos, crazies, and maniacs of all stripes to find kindred spirits all over the planet. So while the Internet allows us all to broaden our horizons and strive to become better world citizens, the vast majority of people are doing just the opposite, drilling deeper down the rat holes of their own narrow interests. The io9 article discusses tribalism, groupthink, and other topics related to confirmation bias that help explain, depressingly, why we reject peaceful coexistence, even when it’s within our grasp.

Confirmation bias is one of the 12 types of cognitive bias covered in the article. Just twelve, you might say, no problem. You can overcome 12 biases, expand your perspective, achieve self actualization. Unfortunately, as George Dvorsky points out in a comment at the end of his article, “There are well over a hundred cognitive biases that I did not list in this article,” and thoughtfully provides a link to the Wikipedia article describing them all.

We have our work cut out for us.

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