Out of the frying pan, into the fire.
I recently watched the internet film, Zeitgeist. After which I was burning to write my opinions here, but unfortunately that’s not really what my blog is about, so instead I turn my attention to the internet as Information Technology. At least this is what IT stood for when I was at school, but ironically this was a time when I was much more likely to turn to books for information. More to the point, I was likely to go to much greater lengths to find out facts than doing a quick Google.
The author/director of Zeitgeist is quite open that you should not take his word for the ‘facts’ he presents. He urges you to research this material yourself, because “truth is not told, it is realized“. But when I came to do exactly this, it dawned on me quite how shallow my engagement with this material was going to be. My complacency was such that I was willing to accept or refute the existence of Jesus Christ after 5 minutes scanning Wikipedia entries.
Ask yourself – If you need to research something, or validate a fact, how far are you willing to go? If Google, or Wikipedia turn up something that scratches your itch, do you dig deeper? Do you follow the citations and examine those? What if the citation isn’t on the internet? What if you have to actually read a book? an obscure book, maybe a text in a foreign language, even a dead language. What if there is an exclusive community of scholars behind that source that are in the midst of a raging debate over its validity? The fact is that we are armchair researchers, we want an answer and we want it quick. This makes us less critical, more cynical, and even with all this information at our our fingertips perhaps we are more blind than ever.
We know that anyone can publish on the internet and we feel empowered by this. We entrust ourselves to separate the wheat from the chaff – to decide what is authoritative and what is bogus. We think this medium is superior to newspapers and television; that the information available to us is free of political bias, and out of the hands of media moguls. But isn’t this just a little bit too easy? Maybe we are kidding ourselves. As we continue to invest in this superficial method of fact-finding we are also lulling ourselves into a false sense of security? Most alarming when you consider that huge corporations are conglomerating the internet in exactly the same way as they did with offline media.
Back to Zeitgeist – I am not saying I think it is all nonsense; nor am I saying I think it’s right on the money. I think everyone should watch it because it is thought provoking. But it does worry me that a film like this, which is incredibly clever in its ability to win your respect and trust, could be too easily lapped up. All we really want is someone to come along and give us the answers, to open our eyes at the click of a button.