The reality of the Internet

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jethro's picture

This article was sparked by reading Cathy's post yesterday titled "Not the real World". In it she muses about how people in the non connected world, those who don't participate as bloggers, or other viral networking systems that the Internet is composed of tend to share a narrow, often inaccurate view of reality, current events, people and ideas.

I think Cathy is absolutely right and I want to explore some reasons as to why.

If we look at the history of knowledge (just briefly) we can see some startling facts about the age we are currently in, the Information Age. There is more information available to us now as individuals then has ever been available to individuals anywhere in time before. That does not make us wiser, it just opens possibilities for learning that did not exist before.

The main reason is the viral nature of the Internet, but specifically a non linear virality. Let me explain.

Imagine you are standing in a circle in your local school gymnasium with 100 people you know from the local area, members of your church sporting associations, school teachers, your children's friends and their parents, neighbours, family etc. You are physically holding hands with 2 people, either side of you, as is everybody else in the gym. Now imagine a scenario where very single person in the gym turns to his 2 neighbours and both gives an opinion on a subject, and hears his 2 neighbours opinions. How far can your opinion travel in 10 minutes round that circle, not far. If the same subject is used say 6 times in a row, there is a potential that the opinion you have may alter by hearing your neighbours opinions, or by the opinions passed on by their neighbours etc. However the potential is extremely limited as this is a linear form of communication. That is, messages only go out along the line either side of you, and can potentially in 6 iterations only affect a maximum of 12 other people - if your opinion does not get watered down, forgotten, not passed on etc. This is similar to the game Chinese whispers.

Now lets change the linear concept for a non linear one. Imagine that you can now go and tell your opinion to any 6 other people in the room, and let them tell you theirs. The potential for expansion of ideas, interactions with others whom you would never have interacted before is astounding. It can grow exponentially.

The internet has enabled this for us humans. We can now exchange ideas, spread information (and disinformation) and learn new concepts and viewpoints far more easily. I read the blogs of people in Italy, UK, USA, Asia, India, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, and other countries. I have met some of these people in real life, others I have met via voice and video conversations. I have found clients and staff through these contacts. In the process I have been exposed to many and varied points of view that I would have never had in the more linear "real world" in which I habitat. the concept of 6 degrees of separation works here. Add to that the massive growth in social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, which use this concept to work.

imageRobin Good published an article yesterday that explored the future of learning; where these ideas are taking us as a race of humans. In the essay that Teemu Arina has written on his site, she introduces a vision for the future of learning as well as two interesting concepts you may want to explore further: Serendipic and Parasitic Learning.

I  think there is potential for people to hide behind their own ignorance (in complete disbelief of the same) while spouting forth the dogma they are infected with by people they regularly mix with, and never have their ideas challenged. In short, they never learn to think for themselves, but become sounding gongs for others ideas. these people are narrow minded, cannot see that for themselves and are frustrating to be around.

Our challenge as "the enlightened" is not to lord it over them, pooh pooh their small town ideas and beliefs, their naivete and dogma, but to challenge them to realise that there is more to learn.

I remember the period of time in my life when I realised this. A good friend helped me to see the way. Before that I was strongly opinionated (with the absolute belief that I was right and everybody else was wrong). With some help I gradually came to see the 4 types of knowledge that exist (and hopefully a little less arrogance and a whole lot more tolerance!)

  1. Stuff we know we know
  2. Stuff we don't know we know
  3. Stuff we know we don't know
  4. Stuff we don't know we don't know

Let me explain.

Everybody knows things - if you are aware you know them then this falls into category 1. you probably know that you know how to tie your shoe laces for example.

There are things you know, but are not aware of it. For example the woman whose child is locked in a burning house who suddenly is able to smash windows and rescue her child may talk about it afterwards as saying she didn't know how she knew how to smash the window and get in there, yet obviously she did. She just wasn't aware of it until the situation required it.

You probably are aware that there things about which you know nothing. For example I know that I know virtually nothing about the genetic manipulation of weevils so as to make them less of a problem for grain farmers. Yet I know this knowledge exists (my wife's cousin works in this field)

But by far and away the largest body of knowledge is the things you haven't found out yet. You don't know what they are because you have never heard of them. I was fascinated a few years ago when I discovered the concept of morphic fields as researched by Rupert Sheldrake.

So how are we to interact with those who frustrate us with their petty small minded views?

First I suggest patience, and gentle persuasion. For family and friends who we cant simply ignore or not be around it can take years to assist them to gradually learn that there are other possibilities to the realities they believe in. Sometimes this may never happen. I think it is is sad when people close their minds off to learning. If learning is growing, then not learning is dying. It is sad to watch a loved one refuse to grow.

Second I recommend exploration. Encourage others to do what you practice as well. Get out there - meet new people - learn new ideas, embrace new possibilities for knowledge. I have practiced in the last 8 years now a concept of trying to learn as much as possible about a few key subjects each year. The idea is that over 10-20 years you will be come an expert or at least knowledgeable in 30-40 major topics. This makes you a well rounded thinker, as well as being a source others will turn to for advice, answers and information. Your blog is one place to demonstrate this knowledge.

Third I suggest some changes. If possible change who you mix with, both to avoid those with closed minds, and also to find those with open minds. Change who your children spend time with. If a family member poisons your child's minds against growth and exploration of knowledge then limit your child's access to that person. We have had to do that in the past. Even though it was a hard thing to do at the time, the benefits today outweighed the temporary pain. And the funny thing is that most of the relatives we avoided have actually leant to start learning, and we no longer need to limit that access.


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Anonymous's picture

never looked at it that way!

never looked at it that way!