The Internet! Maybe the most outstanding communication innovation in the history of mankind. A little tap on the keyboard and we have access to all sorts of knowledge, information, ideas, pictures. . . Indispensable business tool that offers faster communication, social networking, and eCommerce.
In this blog post the focus is on the negative aspects with the Internet (Black Hat Thinking). This type of thinking should not be of a negative character; instead a search for possible faults and risks is carried out. There are many blog posts on the Internet providing lists with disadvantages and the aim with this post is to explore risks and problems but also to encourage a search for ways to overcome these problems. We explore search engines in general and we look at a wide range of ways that we use the Internet to access information, for example, read the News.
The Annual Edge question 2010 was How is Internet Changing the Way You Think. Yet none of the scientists and artists who contributed, directed their attention to possible disadvantages and risks of the overwhelming use of search engines. Instead they explored ideas such as “Is the Internet making us stupider since it is getting more difficult to read a long piece”, and “We have become hunter gatherers of images and information”.
Our brain has an effective filter. Yet when we are looking for information, this filter is not always effective. We are surrounded by things that are trying to impress us and to capture our attention. Our filter tends to leave through things that are familiar to us, while new things and things that require time to process may be ignored.
Brain is an Effective Filter
We can reduce the volume of data by processing it into information and knowledge. We may complain about data overload but we are strangers to the idea of knowledge overload. The problem could be described as a filter failure rather than information overload. When our filters fail, we end up spending time on things that we would not do if the filters were working. In some cases, it takes courage to stop opening emails that we know have no real interest to us. A more serious problem is when there are filters that we are not aware of. We may be aware of that search engines are filtering our searches, yet it may be difficult to know how to avoid the effects or at least work around the effects.
- The Internet is NOT the machine that immediately gives you always the perfect answer.
The concept of search engines is interactivity: they deliver information in exchange for information from you.
Do you believe that search engines are charitable, idealistic organizations?
Search engines may provide you with information but they also want information from you.
Thus, it is not you who controls the machine.
- A characteristic of the Internet is affirmation.
Search engines confirm our expectations, opinions, and ideas.
For example, I wanted to differentiate my company for training creative thinking because the market consisted of companies training people to use brainstorming techniques, which I consider a weak form for creative thinking. Brainstorming does not fulfill the need that businesses, technical, and public organisations have concerning creative thinking. So I called my company Practice for Bold Thinking.
This resulted in my company not showing up with search terms such as creative thinking. People looking for creative thinking will always be given links to providers using brainstorming techniques. They will not ever learn about other existing creative techniques.
The Internet reinforces opinions we may have or may have had. Thus, the way the collected data is interpreted reinforces our ideas.
The ads that I am seeing on my screen seems to be directed towards a golf enthusiastic. i must have moved to Spain to play golf and to invest my money, look at my health insurance. . . Thus, the information that has been collected by the search engine reinforces standard thinking about people. I do not see any ads inviting me to join the next Mount Everest expedition. Yet 90-years-olds are climbing that mountain and I am rather fit! I do not see any ads with an invitation from Columbia university to get a degree in humanities. Or to set up a company that use fish to nibble away dead skin cells on your feet.
The Internet reinforces the idea of Wisdom of the Cloud. The items that receive the most clicks are equal to the truth. So they must be the truth. This way of working is based on the idea of consensus. However, all scientific breakthroughs are the result of breaking standard opinions about what were true till then.
Eric Drexter has suggested that next to Wikipedia there should be a Wiki of controversies. The standard Wikipedia is the result of a process of consensus seeking, the AntiWikipedia should seek conflict. The effort required from the contributors is to make a claim pro as stark as possible, and also the opposite claim.
Then there is the trait of absence of randomness. In an earlier blog post we have stressed the importance of randomness when thinking.
Perhaps we should every time we inject a search word combine it which a word from a random word generator. The word I got was Agonist.
I tried this with the search Obesity, which I had tested before without finding any new ideas regarding possible remedies. So I typed Obesity Agonist. I discovered the role of a 5-HT2c receptor agonist as a possible remedy against obesity.
Thus, you do not control the Internet and the Internet does not control you. “Communication” is a two-way process, even if you are typing information into a machine. In a similar way as if you do not ask your neighbour in the right questions, there is no way you will get the answer to the question regarding how much you should prune the hedge that you share. The mindset has to be that you have to be creative and inventive when you use a search engine, just like you have to when you talk to your friends, family and neighbours.
The full impact of personalisation puts a questions mark around the idea that the internet as a tool to opening up information. Personalisation leads to funnelling what we see by delivering what the search engines knows, or thinks it knows, we are interested in. Personalisation can lead to a person with a good degree from a modest university from a humble background not gaining access to good jobs despite begin bright. Recruiters may target people who have graduated from certain universities and with the help of social media these people may be easier to reach. The bright student who has graduated from a modest university may never see the advert for the job. Consequently, the person will never send in an application.
If you have previously searched for articles about obesity you may get the newest research, while someone who has never searched for it but has done lots of searches about food may get links to information about links between obesity and food.
A serious consequence for society is that a person may miss out on important news because of their interest in other subjects. When a person buys a newspaper to read about a sport event, the headlines on the front page may attract his or her attention. There may be a bank crises in the country. However, on the internet this news may not reach the person. The internet feeds a person news depending upon what he or she interacts with. Thus, a broad search using different media is one way to make sure that we are outsmarting the Internet.
Photo “Arrows On Dartboard Showing Perfect Aiming” by Stuart Miles