Thinking critically, not just for t-shirts anymore!

Back when I was proprieter of Megalomedia, I adopted “Think Critically” as something of a slogan. I even did t-shirts as part of my failed attempt to launch a non-profit aimed at promoting responsibility in the news media.

I have since carried the concept of critical thinking as a personal motto, of sorts. Today, in a weird sort of happenstance, I got a mass email from an old friend – the first communication I have received from him in years. The email was basically a mea culpa as he has dropped off the radar of most of his friends (though it is not like I have been spamming his account with messages either) and in it he waxes philosophic about his frustration with society – including the fact that we (in the collective sense) don’t really teach kids to think critically anymore.

His choice of words got me thinking about something I have spent hours thinking about over the past few years. How do we get people to start thinking for themselves more? It is, for lack of a better word, one of the more critical things facing us, I think. People don’t really engage with information anymore – most media is created to be consumed passively and in small doses.

Which is why I am so excited by the idea of social media and the whole Web 2.0 thing. In theory, people can seek out their own information without conventional media acting as a filter. Anyone so inclined to engage information on their own terms. It should, in theory, make thinking critically easier because an infinite number of theories and viewpoints is available.

But, as the great philosopher Homer would say, it is a great idea “in theory. In theory, communism works. In theory.”

In practice, I worry that social media and Web 2.o are only creating the illusion of critical thinking. The divergent viewpoints are there, of course, but so is a multitude of similar viewpoints. Whereas in the days of the media conglomerates controlling information, people knew they were getting their news from one source, today someone could go online and read 50 blogs, all saying the same thing, and come away with the illusion of diversity.

While people like me (and I expect most of the people reading this) are just as likely to watch FOX News or read the National Post, just to see what they are saying, people like me (and I expect most of the people reading this) are freaks. We don’t represent the majority. The fact is that reading viewpoints that are contrary to your own isn’t really that much fun. It is much more pleasant to see yourself reflected in what you read. I would much rather read Damien Cox, for example, than anyone in the Toronto Sun’s sports section because Cox frequently takes the Leafs down a peg while Sun staffers tend to be homers (though Jiri Tlusty may disagree).

That’s my worry.

My fear, on the other hand, is that I am being overly optimistic in implying people actually want divergent viewpoints. To quote the great poet Fat Mike, “the sad truth is / you’d rather follow the school into the net / ’cause swimming alone at sea / is not the kind of freedom that you actually want.”

I think the world would be a better place if everyone applied a little critical thought. Social media gives people the opportunity to do so; am I naive to think that means people will?

1 comment

  1. The availability of fresh local produce gives people the ability to eat healthily, but it doesn’t mean they will. Web 2.0 gives people the ability to balance information, but it just makes it easier for those who would seek diverse opinion. Lowering the barrier to entry for informed thought is a good start, but those who don’t want a range of opinions can’t be force fed.

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