Well, that was ea–shit, I actually need to say more, don’t I?
I mentioned before that I’ve been on a bit of a documentary binge, thanks to all the amazing [and damn near free] streaming options available to me, and I’ve been leaning toward more…sciencey ones in the last couple of days.
The modern ones are giving me a funny feeling.
The people in the modern ones are making me feel like certain people think the internet is The Enemy.
They keep saying things like ‘conspiracy theories get equal time with facts’.
That statement alone makes me really uncomfortable, but that’s just paranoia. I hear ‘x getting equal time with y’ and this small-but-highly-toxic serpent stirs in my head, opening one eye, maybe going so far as to stretch and yawn a little before evaluating the situation. Should it bite, or go back to sleep? Little nibble maybe? No? Better go back to sleep then, before questions like ‘why the fuck do I have eyelids’ crop up, because the brain hasn’t got an answer to that….
One of the things I watched actually followed through, and talked about how more openness was needed, more communicating with ‘the general public’ and more ‘gaining their trust’ was needed, but…god, that makes we on the side of science sound so far above everyone else.
If, of course, I may presume to use ‘we’. I never attended college, never got a science degree, or anything else. I consider myself scientifically-inclined, but the vast majority of my learning comes from the internet [and what a varied majority it is].
I’m not going to argue against openness. I, for one, would love to have more access to more things, so I can learn more, but I think that’s where my problems start. Possibly even where the problem is.
See, when you complain about conspiracies or junk science having equal time [and not being weeded out of search results/discriminated against] in search results, I’m sure you’re not doing it to make me worry that you want to censor the everloving fuck out of the internet, and ruin half my fun. I’m sure you mean that you’re worried about the end-user not being able to tell the difference between facts and fiction.
The problem is not the internet.
You have to see this — most of you are smarter, more educated, and way better paid than I am. The internet is magnificent. It’s damned near miraculous.
The problem is the people.
No, this isn’t a ‘ha ha people are dumb’ thing — although they are. This is a ‘people aren’t educated’ thing.
People — people older than me, people younger than me — haven’t been taught how to use the tools they already have. Or they haven’t been given the tools, and haven’t been taught how to use them.
So maybe the problem is education, and not people. I’m just not sure.
I see examples of the problem these documentaries sometimes complain about on Facebook a lot. A photoshopped image being misrepresented, a false story being shared around. Hell, there’s even a misattributed quotes meme, so people are aware of it, whether they really get it or not. But they either don’t have the tools, or don’t understand the tools, depending on how you want to look at it.
I might have a solution.
Step 1: Accept that there are lost causes. No matter how many times you say, ‘FUCKING CHECK SNOPES OR I WILL FILL YOUR SOCKS WITH SPIDERS!’ there are going to be people who will like-tag-share that important warning about how serial killers are drilling holes in car doors and getting your address so they can hide under your car in the garage some day and cut your ankles and steal your purebred dog for the fur industry. Accept it, and move on. These people aren’t a threat, as long as you….
Step 2: Start teaching people that learning is rewarding. Figure out a way to get their brains to release happy-feel-good chemicals when they learn something, and get them fucking addicted to learning.
I said I had a solution; I didn’t say it wasn’t sinister.
Step 3: Teach them to question what they’re learning. Teach them that chasing down references is just as rewarding as the initial learning.
That might be enough, right there. Three steps. Easy to say, probably not so easy to implement. But, it should be enough. It should fix a lot of things. Once you enjoy learning, and you enjoy chasing shit down and questioning it, you’re going to find that, while some people might find entertainment in 9/11 conspiracies, they don’t believe them. Because, once you enjoy learning and know how to do it, you know how to fact-check. You can spot flaws in arguments — it almost becomes instinctive after a while.
I don’t know when people need to start learning this, and I’d be surprised if people couldn’t be taught. I know we can’t turn everyone into autodidacts — those are unique creatures who might even be born with the right wiring for all of this. But I really do think you can teach a person how to do this, especially if you catch them early enough.
Obviously, I don’t have a background in child education, and I don’t know much about kids [except: I don’t like kids, ew, get it away], so I might be wrong about what I’m about to say.
You should start teaching kids these things as early as possible. Ideally, you as a parent should teach your own kid to enjoy learning and to think critically. I know that this isn’t always an option, though, because not all parents have time, or resources, or even the interest [there are shitty parents, let’s be honest], but, well, I did say ‘ideally’. Schools could pick up the slack, though.
I know, I know. Schools are overcrowded and overburdened and underfunded and, y’know what? I haven’t got a solution for that. Not one that anyone wants to hear [it involves a version of a certain reality TV show that actually lives up to its name]. Schools have problems, and some of those problems are absolutely shitty teachers, and absolutely shitty standards. Let’s pretend that we can fuck with the system a bit, though, and add in some ‘learning how to learn’.
Start early. Kindergarten on. Find a way to make the ungrateful little shits love learning, and teach them that it’s okay to ask questions. Later on, when they’re forming full, coherent paragraphs, give them entertaining assignments to exercise their researching and questioning abilities. Have them research and point out the flaws of a conspiracy theory, or something.
Hell, while you’re at it, test them in other areas. See if you can get them to argue, convincingly, for something they don’t believe in.
Some of this can be elective, sure, but the core, the learning and the questioning, absolutely needs to be mandatory.
If this concept already exists in the educational system, it didn’t when I was in school, and it’s obviously failing. If it weren’t, I wouldn’t be hearing scientists saying the shit they’re saying about the internet.