A Significant Portion of the Population Believes Stupid Things

Today I read this short little interview from Good magazine with science writer James Gleick. It opens with the following mind-boggling bit of trivia:

More than 21 exabytes of data are sent over the internet every month. Exabytes! If that information were put down on paper, the stack would stretch from here to Pluto 10 times over. And that’s just the internet. That’s not even counting what’s sent via private networks, TV transmissions, phone calls, or GPS devices.

That is a staggering amount of data. The interview is basically about Claude Shannon, essentially the father of digital, and how digital technology has led to the massive explosion of communication we currently :cough: enjoy. But is all of this information a good thing or not? Gleick makes this comment:

Having access to thousands of times more information than we did a generation ago hasn’t instantly made us any smarter. It’s empowered us in very real ways. On a good day, it has given us something that feels like omniscience. When there’s an earthquake in Japan, the visual images come to us in real time. When I want to look up the answer to an obscure question that would have taken me a day in the library just a few years ago, the answer’s at my fingertips. I can pull a little device out of my pocket and find the answer, but that doesn’t necessarily make us any smarter. Look, a significant portion of the population believes stupid things. They doubt the place of birth of the president 
of the United States. Some people are not persuaded that Osama bin Laden is dead. People can be willfully stupid, or they can be stupid for political purposes. Or they can just be confused because a mass of information doesn’t translate into clearer thinking. So we’re back to T.S. Eliot: “Where’s the knowledge we have lost in information?”

As if to underscore the point, here’s this study from Fairleigh Dickinson University that found Fox News viewers are less informed on major stories than people who don’t watch any news at all. Frankly, I’m not surprised.

Of course, a huge percentage of these exabytes of data transmission — which includes the text on the screen that is magically being transferred from my fingertips to your eyeholes, wherever you are reading this — is devoted to utter nonsense.

Glorious, sublime nonsense.

I mostly hate it. But sometimes the internet is a glorious place.



6 thoughts on “A Significant Portion of the Population Believes Stupid Things”

  1. I beg to differ about that survey. I’m a Fox viewer and I find myself to be well informed about the major stories of the day.

    I feel a Tebow moment coming over me right about now. ‘cuse me while I drop to one creaky knee.

  2. I like the ease of looking up details for my writing, but decry the sheer mass of misinformation and disinformation we see on a daily basis. On the other hand, I also am funnier since I’ve found the internet. that’s nice.

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