Much has been typed about the Laptop Expert in the Information Age. I will not take too much of your time, but I felt that it was my duty to contribute to the conversation, mostly because I find it relevant to what I’ve been discussing, namely authority and individualism. Remember, however, that this blog is opinion, is in no way authoritative, and I reserve the right of the wise to admonish me.
Knowledge, as they say, is power. Someone also said that “the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Instant global communication via the internet especially (and of course through other, more primitive means of communication such as a telephone or radio) has made it possible for the greatest number of people in the history of the world to know things. We hail this as perhaps the greatest achievement of mankind; the dissemination of information at high speed is a sign of civilization second only to universal access to birth control.
However, having a knowledge of facts (and of course the media we consume isn’t necessarily all about fact) isn’t enough to become an authority on something. To become an authority on something, we need to learn from an authority what these facts mean, have the leisure to digest the facts and compare the facts with other facts or truths (and to do so with other people), and finally, have a generally well-disciplined and trained mind. In our fast-paced world, the need for an external authority is rejected, we don’t have any time for leisure, and we are too often assaulted by the excess of knowledge (or pseudo-knowledge) at too early an age to have a truly well-formed mind.
Instead, we believe ourselves competent to comment on any subject we come across on the Internet because ultimately we are our own authority and the more people who will listen to us will only cement that idea in our brains. We think that efficiency in knowledge (finding as many fact as possible in the least amount of time) is a value, thus short-circuiting our natural need for contemplation and the integration of new knowledge into our system of thinking. Finally, we have made the democratization of knowledge and information so thorough and complete that we insist on our children having the same access to the information and the ability to express themselves in this immediate and individualistic way regardless of the development of their minds.
Who needs teachers when we have the internet and our own reason to guide us? Why spend time thinking through something with other people when Someone On the Internet is Wrong? If we don’t say something now the time will have passed. Why would we need to form our minds before taking in all this knowledge and information? After all, as I said, knowledge is power and if we are to create a society of perfect equality, everyone needs access to the same information and knowledge, lest some have more power than others.
And yet, without someone or something to guide our devouring of knowledge in pursuit of power, we will become immoderate in our consumption. We will become fat and bloated with our sense of power and entitlement. And ultimately, as in all systems, there will be those that use it better than others, thus creating a natural hierarchy and natural authorities. Are there bloggers we read daily? Do we trust some news agencies over others? Are there journalists we turn to when something important happens?
And yet, through social media we insist on the validity of our own opinion on every subject. Perhaps the global economy of information has created more equality, maybe it hasn’t. Could it be, though, that regardless it has contributed to the conflict that individualism breed? Could it be that we need less information to be more truly free and more truly human?