Information Literacy in the Post-Intellectual Era: How Lazy Consumption Changed American Politics and Society Forever

All great calamities in human history were proceeded by campaigns of misinformation, welcome to the next apocalypse.

Photo by Matthew Guay on Unsplash

While politics is a symptom and not the cause of a general degradation in the way society consumes and assigns meaning to information, it does serve as a metaphorical canary in a coal mine, warning us of the possible social dangers that lie ahead.

It may not be the end of the world as we know it, but we do need to consider what is happening around us and why. As an author, educator, and historian, I do have opinions on politics and social issues, but on campus, I try hard to remain neutral, open, and empathetic to all points of view. I want my students to know that their positions on issues are as valid as mine, and my goal is to help students become smart, active, and critical consumers of information, not passive lemmings who are spoon fed single-sourced information and take it as the truth.

For many, absolute truths come in the form of a 280 character limit message on a five-inch screen, and neither Alexa or Siri ever ask if you would like to hear evidence or an opposing point of view.

Because a real understanding of scientific, social, and political truths takes work — that is, one has to check several sources to arrive at an accurate conclusion — it has opened the door to the acceptance of alternative facts and the memes of fake news. Consuming and assigning credibility to the first thing one reads or hears is easy; investigating other points of view is hard. We now consume what we want while ignoring the difficult issues as technology becomes a facilitator for laziness and escapism.

In short, the amount of information that we receive is at an all-time high while our ability to process, discern, and critically consume information is at an all-time low.

While technology contributed to the trend of lazy consumption of information by peppering us with easy to consume emoji-laden soundbite snippets, trends in education have exacerbated the problem. The devaluation of information literacy and critical thinking skills is evidenced by the closing of liberal arts programs in favor of disciplines such as coding and robotics. In the process, students become masters of communicating with machines but not each other. It’s not that we don’t need students in the STEM fields, we do, but we need to maintain a robust curriculum of humanities that teach interpersonal and critical thinking skills.

It is clear that information technology has gotten way ahead of our ability to smartly consume it, and we’re at a dangerous precipice.

Throughout world history, well-informed societies have thrived while those ruled by state-run media or nationalistic misinformation campaigns have inevitably collapsed — usually with significant death and destruction along the way. All of us are guilty of shortcuts and assumptions, but it is more important now than ever that we remain vigilant when it comes to consuming information and that we seek all points of view before forming an opinion.

Educator, author, and over-thinker writing about current events, teaching, learning, and life.

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