The Information Boom

There’s such a huge amount to be said about technology and how it continues to change the way we live. One of the things I’ve wondered about is how all the resultant information will affect us. The rise of the internet has given way to the fall of the library, much as the flash drive killed the DVD, which killed the CD, which killed the tape deck, which killed the vinyl. You can never really replace the feel, smell and value of holding a book, but at the core of information sharing, the Internet is a formidable behemoth.

How will a massive amount of freely available information influence the way we think and how will it affect our IQs over the next two or three generations? Compare information traffic from fifty or even ten years ago to how it is now and you’ve got to ask yourself how we will process, categorize and utilize all the data we have at hand today. Recent statistics show that in 2015 information will have more than doubled what we had in 2010. That’s five years. The progression of information development and sharing has become so rapid that we are well beyond the point of saturation and are now drowning in our own selfies and selfish updates on social networks. Nobody ever bothered to start categorizing all the information on the Internet, validating and ranking it based on its authenticity and accuracy, and giving it some kind of rating to tell the world whether it’s worth reading or not. The closest thing we have to a ranking system is likes, shares and retweets to tell us something is worth checking out. But in the midst of all this chaos, it’s starting to give a pretty strange but accurate reflection of what humanity as a whole thinks and behaves like.

Fifty years ago information was still a fairly exclusive commodity. Aside from what we learned in schools or universities, knowledge was obtained through conversations with a small group of friends and family members, who themselves only got to learn from the small pool of knowledge they found themselves in at the time. Communities were smaller, job options were fewer, belief systems were less challenged. It really was a simpler time. If you wanted to be anything other than the stock standard average housewife, salesman, shopkeeper or farmer, you’d have to go study and specialize. Today you simply Google what you want to know and you’ll find an abundance of information and even official university study material at your disposal.

Twenty years ago the Internet boom started rattling foundations around First World countries but there was still merit to getting a college education and the likes of interpersonal sharing and social media hadn’t really occurred yet. The Internet was still a bit like the new neighbor you are still unsure of but trying to gauge from a safe distance. Meanwhile here in Africa I remember cell phones just becoming a thing and everyone considering it the new status symbol to have and walk around with, proudly parading the clunky half brick cum potential murder weapon for everyone to see. Little did we know how integral this would soon become in our daily lives.

Meanwhile, psychologist James Flynn was studying human IQ development over the decades and found that as a species, we are actually developing higher IQs with every new generation. Surprising, you’d think, if you looked at the mass obsession with Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber… He has found that with the rapid increase in intellectually demanding tasks over this progressive century in human history, we’ve had to learn more and adapt to mentally challenging tasks at younger ages. This means we’re smarter than our parents, and our kids will be smarter than we are. Our vocabularies are also rapidly expanding, he says. I wonder what the effect of the internet generation will be on this, considering all the leet speek and newly developed language variations that have surfaced from a texting generation. I really don’t want to live in a world where the English language has evolved into a culmination of short blips and chirps that resemble Morse code. Nothing will ever match or better words we currently use, I think.

So, here we are today. We’re raising a generation of information-spoilt kids. They have never known a life where the answer to a question had to be sourced from a parent or elder, who might likely end up directing you to the nearest library where you had to dig through many pages of several books, just to get your answer. That’s if it wasn’t classified as material you’d need to study for a degree, in which case you’d be out of luck. It’s been said that today you don’t have to go to university anymore. Information your parents paid a fortune for and you spent years studying in order to get a degree, can now be accessed and absorbed by anyone curious enough to find out, from their own bedroom or sofa.

This opens a lot of doors and summons a lot of questions. Like, will humanity make use of this information to better the world, or will it all be drowned out by meaningless chatter and overindulgence, lack of respect for the knowledge we once held so dear? There will always be that smart kid who could do incredible things if only he had the resources or funding. Maybe now that problem is solved. After all, now more than ever we’ve got teenagers accomplishing incredible things. Helping to find cures for cancer, fighting AIDS, coming up with brilliant reusable energy solutions. 6-Year olds are building mobile apps and presenting their work on stage to people ten times their age. This is a remarkable time to be alive. I just hope we manage to retain our humanity in the midst of all this and remember what’s important.

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