I overheard a conversation between my coworkers, a 50-year-old guy from the Bronx and a second year engineering student, the other day where they were talking about the impact of the Internet on the younger generation. The conversation went something like this:
The 50-year-old from the Bronx: “Man you kids have it so easy. You grow up thinking that what you see on the internet is true, all of it. Because that’s where you get your information these days. My kid the other day told me to just “look it up”. The truth is, the Internet only confirms that the truth is what you want to believe. You only read articles that reaffirm your viewpoint. The internet doesn’t know everything. Back in the day, we didn’t have access to the Internet, and in our hometown, the information we got was what we got.”
The second-year engineering student: “Lemme google this real quick.”
It reminded me of an annotation Alex made in the “How Internet gets us” that I’m still thinking deeply about. She shares that “the internet doesn’t know everything, though, and it’s that kind of thinking that gets us into trouble. It’s not there to be a spouse, or a friend, or a person… it’s a receptacle of information that is both true and untrue, and it’s up to users to sift through that information and form their own opinions.”
I still wonder if we use the web as a tool for our confirmation biases. I, too, used to believe that the world wide web was the infinite place where we could get answers to anything: what’s the name of the 50th president? How long is a flight to Japan? What does publishing mean? When we go on the web to search for answers to our curiosities, sometimes we go in wanting to information to support our underlying beliefs. Sometimes we don’t know anything at all, but the more times we see an article of information, the more we believe it is true. I wonder if it is the mere exposure effect that helps circulate our ideas of what the truth is. Gillian Fournier in “Psych Central” writes that the mere exposure effect is a “psychological phenomenon whereby people feel a preference for people or things simply because they are familiar.” If People Magazine, US Weekly, and Meghan Markle’s dad, and Meghan Markle’s dog shares that she hates Kate Middleton, then somehow somewhere the idea must be true right?
We familiarize ourselves with the web, to a point where it feels a place we belong to. But I’m starting to believe that the web is not only one specific place, like a library. The web doesn’t know everything; so can it be one particular place? Does the web know the answer to what the web is? Maybe on a literal dictionary definition level, but from webpage to webpage, the web knows no more than us all. The web then feels more like little places clustered together as if a digital community. Similar to the idea we learned the last lecture, the internet was built to decentralize conglomerates of information so information can be boundlessly communicated everywhere. Can the web be the same?
While reflecting the role of the web and the Internet on our daily lives, I couldn’t help but feel a little afraid. We have become so reliant on using the web to find answers to any of our questions. The web should not become our only lives, consuming us as a whole. The web is a place for us to create. We should hold the authority to choose the impact the web has on our lives. We can have offline and online conversations to make well-informed decisions on what truth is.
To continue my nostalgia in midst of these anxieties, I’ll do another mini digital detox by going to bed early and dreaming of a life without the web. Little did I know the nightmare is still waiting for me when I wake up.