The internet encourages niche data and our world is more divided than ever. How can ensure we get well-rounded, accurate information using today’s and tomorrow’s technology?
First I want to deal with the implicit assumption in this question – that the world is more divided and that’s just not true. Clearly there is division in some places and we’re more aware of that now – and also it is easier for the people who would divide us to find each other on the net (there are certainly echo chambers of hate and ignorance). But the general trend is of a more connected, collegiate world. The decline of violence for instance is hugely under-reported. We think the world’s more violent (and in some place it is) but actually the trend, overall, is downwards – and has been for hundreds of years. This surprised me too but the figures are unequivocal.
“The ability to ask a question, be curious and find answers is the 21st Century’s most important skill”
To address the main question: in the information age you need to develop the skills to deal with information. We should be teaching ourselves and our kids enquiring research skills – those skills that allow us to make judgments about the information we receive. If you can’t tell the difference between well researched, unbiased and peer-reviewed information and the National Enquirer you’re going to find it increasingly hard to function in the coming age. The ability to ask a question, be curious and find answers is the 21st Century’s most important skill – what one of my interviewees called ‘The Questing Disposition’. It’s not something we’ve been used to or really taught in the sausage factory version of education most of us went through. We live in a permission-based culture and one where power and knowledge live at the top of hierarchies – academic, business and political. That’s changing. Ask yourself, if you wanted to get a rounded view of where the American economy was going and you had a choice between talking to the current administration or the board of Google where would you go? That’s not to say either has the full picture, but who do you reckon has a bigger handle on it all?
The question isn’t so much “How do we get well-rounded, accurate information using today’s and tomorrow’s technology” but “How do I train myself to get well-rounded, accurate information – with the help of today’s and tomorrow’s technology.” If you can’t answer that question you’re going to drown in ignorance. The essential skills for the coming world are curiosity, critical thinking and the ability to see your worth not as a function of what you own, but what you create that other people can use.