Charles Fox, Jr.


We've entered into an interesting (and frankly, frustrating) era of human interaction. Catalyzed by the rise of the internet, technology (and the barrier that it sometimes presents to actual information sharing and the saturation of ever abounding levels of passive aggressiveness, we seem to have stumbled into an anti-intellectual state of affairs. Before anyone presumes that I'm venturing into, dare I invoke his name, Bill Cosby levels of respectability politics, let me assure you that this is not an indictment related to academic achievement, how many degrees one has collected, my own delusions of intellectual grandeur, or anything of the sort. This is a eulogy and call for resurrection of a certain level of intellectual diligence that seems to have vanished from the status quo.

I'm referring, of course, to the penchant folks seem to have in the age of the internet for making things up, sharing false information (and calling them facts), and generally ignoring the basic tenets of research and properly sourcing material. Regrettably, the "information superhighway" has, in some ways become the "misinformation congested highway in disrepair." The sheer amount of content online means that some of it is going to be bogus. Our task is sifting through it and trying to find verified truth and knowledge where we can.

Recently, I was talking to a good friend who went through the Journalism program at a prominent HBCU over a decade ago. She was lamenting the fact that in 2015, journalism has largely become uninformed, lazy, and contrived. The dedication journalists use to put into their craft has been replaced with a seemingly endless desire to simply put something out, without regard for its accuracy. In many ways, we (self-included) have all been guilty of engaging in the same practices via social media. How many times have we been scrolling through Facebook, Instagram (or whatever digital social media you prefer) and come across a meme/picture/article that seems interesting or speaks to our pre-existing beliefs, and shared it without as much as a quick bit of research to ascertain whether or not it has any validity whatsoever. Of course, I'm not saying that you have to run to the archives of the Library of Congress to find out if something you found online is true, folks don't have time for that. I'm simply saying that it doesn't take more than a few googles to determine whether or not what you've shared is rooted in any semblance of anything resembling truth.

More frustrating, even more so than folks who share clearly counterfeit links, are the folks that actually have the audacity and arrogance to get offended when you politely tell them that what they've shared isn't completely accurate at best or is completely false at worst. Some folks actually take offense to being told, with respect, that they might want to vet something before sharing it with hundreds of people online.

This is what the World Wide Web has wrought upon us. An intergenerational contingent of folks who have little to no interest in getting to the bottom of things if said bottom includes truths that don't align with how they see the world. This is dangerous. It makes us all a little bit less intellectually curious and a little more eager to live in an imaginary world in which everyone agrees with us and we are always right. Of course, no such place exists but it sure is comforting for some folks to pretend it does. At least, until they come back into the real world where facts need to be backed up by more than a hashtag followed by the word: "facts" (#facts).

I wonder how all of this is affecting college campuses. I went to college from 2001-2005. A time in which the internet was very much around and thriving but a bit before the boon of websites (some of them satirical in nature), memes, etc. came to be so widespread. Back then, there simply weren't as many fake/inaccurate sites out there to lead a would-be researcher astray. Today, there are literally hundreds of thousands of sites that exist, seemingly, to hoodwink folks into trafficking their page. Like lemmings, we often fall for it hook, line, and sinker.

We've got to do a better job of understanding that most issues aren't so black and white that they can be summed up in a meme with less than ten words on it. So it's appropriate to take such things with a grain of salt and do a little digging in order to get as much information about something as we can in order to develop an informed opinion on an issue. The world we live in can often be very grey, literally and figuratively. Nothing is true just because we want it to be or because some guy made something up on a Macbook or took something out of context in order to craft something that appeals to the sensibilities of a segment of folks. Their deception is deliberate. Our perpetuating their fallacies does not have to be.

We can and should do better. All it will take is a desire to engage in dialogue with others as opposed to monologue with ourselves surrounded by people who see things precisely the way we do. Sharing inaccurate links online may seem like a victimless practice but in reality, it dilutes our national intelligence. Ok, perhaps that's a bit dramatic but you get the point. Let us all commit to helping make our beloved internet a place where facts really do matter and opinions are not presented as such. In the words of Abraham Lincoln: "Don't believe everything you read on the internet just because there's a picture with a quote next to it." Till next time...happy surfing.

© Copyright 2015, Charles Fox, Jr.
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