The internet impedes our judgment

By Emily Walker

Wolfville (CUP) — Recently, I awoke to a dreamy, snow-laden landscape with thick flakes floating through the air. I lunched and strolled with a dear friend and enjoyed a cup of coffee with another. I came home, made a pot of tea and settled into a chair to read a book. These events may seem mundane, yet they afforded me a deep satisfaction. I was happy because I had been wholly immersed in the tangible, unpredictable world we live in. Somehow, I had avoided booting up my computer and zoning into the Internet.

The internet is a curious thing: it gives us any information we want in mere seconds, and yet unfailingly leaves us feeling unfulfilled. Certainly, it pervades most interactions of our generation, yet few things are as alluring as the chance to slip free of the constricting mantle of the World Wide Web. Perhaps it is the lack of quality stimulation, for our senses are minimally occupied. Pictures are low-res and an unnatural colour, and the very act of staring at the glowing screen strains our eyes. Sounds are muffled and distorted. We press on tiny squares to input our thoughts. Scents relate only to the environment in which we compute, independent of the backlit universe with which our minds are so forcefully absorbed. We are mentally engaged (sometimes), but for the most part, physically disengaged. Furthermore, there is no synchrony to our stimulation.

I am not against the Internet — it dwarfs the impact of the printing press in both its astounding volume and accessibility of information. However, we have forgotten that online reading is not the only vehicle for education. So many profound, personal revelations can be distilled from the soft settling of snow on a winter night or the vastness of a mountaintop panorama. Likewise, a rousing discussion with a friend can awaken even the most stubborn to how poorly substantiated their biases may be. When we explore the pillars of our personal ideologies through conversations with other human beings, we can be shaken by the fragility of our convictions. In doing so, we move closer to understanding our inner voice.

To have an inner voice is to have an opinion. We are losing our opinions. The Internet appears to be awash in opinions of all sorts — in articles, in comments, on blogs. But how many are substantiated? How many are borrowed? With this access to information, we also gain access to predetermined opinions. It’s tempting to adopt rather than create. Why?

Well, in order to glean truth from a data set, a debate or even an offhand comment, you need to reflect. Unfortunately, the internet is not conducive to reflection. Our minds are constantly bombarded with information and therefore cannot process it in a meaningful way. We must unplug in order to mull over what we have absorbed. In doing so, we find ourselves; we motivate the “I” and “me” and “my.”

There is an alternative explanation. Maybe we do have opinions, but are afraid to publicize them for fear of how others will attack us. Anonymous posts and user names cleave the link between comment and commentator; consequently, responsibility for the opinion is never assigned. In this way, the online arena devolves into a circus, both cruel and naive.

We are one of the only species that can predict, recall and reflect on what we observe. Observe your surroundings and reflect on what you see, hear, taste, touch and smell. Maintain your skepticism. Above all, indulge in time away from your computer. The reward may surprise you.

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