Drowning in Information, Starving for Wisdom –

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“Can we use our calculators on the test?”

That was the big question asked by every math student born before 1985. The teacher invariably said something about how we’re not going to go through life with the answers in our pocket.

We showed them. Aside from a calculator, data and information were scarce.

When I was in eighth grade, we stood in front of the class and recited a song, naming off every president. A few years preceding that, there was a song for naming off every state. These were things that otherwise required cracking a book or driving to the library for the answer. There was value in creating mental space for this information.

Now we consult the computer we carry around in our pockets. We have the answers for way more than just our math problems right there at our side. Our access, as well of the amount of content published, continue to grow exponentially by the second.

Large encyclopedias are no longer necessary. More books fit on a smart phone app than on the bookshelves in your house. We now have instant access to more content than we can imagine.

Just How Much Content Is There?

In 1994, there were fewer than 3,000 websites online, according to Atlantic. Somebody stubbornly dedicated could conceivably consume the entire internet at that size. By 2014, there were more than 1 billion sites. For those using their calculator at home, that’s a 33 million percent increase over a 20-year period. That’s a lot of content.

Now, some websites are horribly outdated. Some were only meant to be relevant for a short amount of time. Many are inactive. The same Atlantic story mentions that the average person visits 96 separate domains per month. At that rate, it would only take 10,416,666 months to surf the entire internet.

In case you’re wondering, the growth of content isn’t limited to just the internet. Mental Floss estimated the number of books in existence at 134 million last year, with an estimated 755,755 new titles annually. 

The number of Tweets in a single day reached a peak in 2014 of 661 million. More than 250 billion photos have been uploaded to Facebook, which equates to 350 million per day. This is bad news for people who felt like they needed to read the newspaper from beginning to end while they eat their morning breakfast.

What Does this Mean for the Future?

The easy answer is that if you want to know who the 31st president is, you don’t have to sing a song and count to discover that it was Herbert Hoover. You also don’t need to sing a song to make sure that you include Delaware when you are coloring a map.

All of this information is available at the snap of a finger, instead of a trip to the library. In short we are drowning in information, and looking for ways to make sense of all of it. What we need is to be able to think critically. We need to be able to discern the difference between Info Wars and the Washington Post. We need to recognize that just because our favorite Republican or Democrat family member posted something on Facebook, doesn’t make it true.

In short, there’s no one policing the quality of the thousands of websites being added minute by minute. Will the internet double, triple or quadruple over the next few decades? I’m not sure. It’s a beautiful thing to have access to an ever-increasing amount of data and content – but it’s not without significant risk.

We literally check our phones hundreds of times a day on average. A never-ending flow of content becomes an addiction.

Personal data in the wrong hands puts us at significant risk for fraud or identity theft. Data privacy will continue to be a significant industry.

We can easily be duped by fake news accounts, and be sucked into believing “facts” that aren’t true. It’s important to understand what constitutes a legitimate news source.

We are at risk for more election manipulations, or international crisis that can literally spawn from a fake news account.

There is good from all of this. We have access to news on a nearly instant basis, allowing us to stay better informed of our country and government. Our personal health data can help us to live healthy lives and lose weight. We have instant access to facts, allowing us to expend our energy on critical thinking instead of solely retention.

We simply have to learn how to make sense of what’s put in front of us, and accept that individually, we can only scratch the surface of what’s available.

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