You Are What You Consume

We all can say, with varying levels of confidence, that the evolution of the Internet has allowed us to access, share and distribute information and opinions with increasing ease.  You can share news articles, sound off on discussion boards, independently publish content and find countless commentaries on any subject that manages to capture your attention.  However, does more, or most importantly easy, mean better?  Many researchers are saying no.

Nicholas Carr recently published an article for CNN Tech, “Is the internet making us quick but shallow?” In the article, he cites the President’s recent concern that our beloved digital gadgets are turning information into a “distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment” rather than a means of intellectual “empowerment.”  And in fact, a 2009 article by Patricia Greenfield, a developmental psychologist that teaches at UCLA, drew attention to supporting evidence that our increased interaction with computers, smartphones and other digital platforms weakens our ability to think deeply, critically and creatively.

If this is true, it presents a bit of an oxymoron: a technology that is based on informing, inspiring and educating its users may in fact be doing the opposite.  And it’s an oxymoron that borders on technological blasphemy in the eyes of many avid members of the digital community.  Bloggers and media outlets rushed to condemn Obama as being a ‘technophobe’ (coming from Economist magazine according to the article), perhaps because he is ‘a grumpy old man’.

Why is the majority so quick to criticize those that question the effects of the Internet?  Criticism is often what breeds improvement and evolution.  However, in this case, I don’t think it is the Internet, smartphones or social platforms that need to do the evolving – it’s us.

The next time you stumble upon an link or article, ask yourself the following:

Is the author legitimate?

Are there any hard facts, research or expert opinions that back this up?

Is this information useful in my personal, professional or social life?

Why do I agree or disagree with this?

They seem elementary, but when I thought about it I couldn’t pinpoint the last time I’d really consciously thought about those factors. Those four simple questions are helping me kick my bad habits and consume more constructively. The great thing about the Internet is anyone can publish and share content.  The bad part about the Internet is anyone can publish and share content.

It’s up to us to separate and determine what is first legitimate, and second useful in improving our daily life.  If we become indiscriminate consumers of information, the Internet will lose its power to enlighten.  Instead, we stand to become passive users who are shaped by the serendipitous convergence of links in our Twitter streams, blog feeds, and surfing expeditions rather than our own opinions.

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