A few days ago I was invited to speak about alternative education at a meeting near Heilbronn, Germany. The meeting was awesome and I had some great conversations and made some new friends. One of the conversations I had with a guy, who was around my age, was about a special thing that has the power to make you rich, get you killed, or allow you to graduate college amongst other possible scenarios. This dangerous and amazing thing is called information.
Thanks to the invention of the microchip in 1941 by Konrad Zuse, a German inventor, a new era was born: the Information Age. Zuse’s invention spurred a global revolution in terms of how information was stored and, later on, shared.
Having information meant having power. The news organizations who were the first to know about something could control how much they wanted the public to know. Just like governments, corporations, churches, schools, and, of course, the general media – film, music, and contemporary literature.
But not only did they have the ability to control the amount of information shared with John Doe and Jane Roe, they also had the ability to manipulate information. You know, “tell the people what they want to hear.”
This enabled the media, especially in the West, to easily mold and shape the social system. They set the trends. They dictated the pace, quality, and structure of life. Where else would you get the most up-to-date fashion and lifestyle trends?
The media allowed itself to define buzzwords like money, equality, sex, democracy, and happiness. What clothes should a woman wear? What car should a man drive? The media gives you the illusion of freedom to do what you want. Bigger is better. Be rich and famous and drink Coca-Cola. Cosmopolitan will tell you exactly how to lose 10 pounds in one week, and, at the same time, remind you to feel beautiful in the body you currently have, and, most importantly, let you know how to sex a sexy sex with sex because, well, sex.
Fast forward to the year 2014.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well as Harvard and many other prestigious universities are offering their curricula online for free. You don’t necessarily need to attend a college to get the same information as college students. It’s all available on the Internet.
Having trouble jumpstarting your car? Look it up on YouTube. Forgot who Henry VIII of England was? Wikipedia’s got your back. Want to know what your ex is up to? Facebook. Hungry for lasagne but have no clue how to make it? Google it.
More information, however, automatically means more opportunities to manipulate it. It also means that more people and organizations create and provide an increasing amount of irrelevant information that does nothing to help society grow in a positive way but instead does a lot to help society set their focus on things that should never be a priority in the first place.
Distract them. Real life is boring and hard, so make society focus on the fun and entertaining aspects of life.
For example, depending on the size of their online following, the opinions and musings of some people who have nothing to say somehow matter more than the voices of some of those who are capable of instigating a world-changing movement.
There are thousands of teenagers who are incredibly famous for virtually no reason. When they tweet things like, “Just ate a sandwich with wayyy too much cheese lol #cheeseoverdose,” they get retweets and favorites in the thousands.
There are also thousands of teenagers who have written amazing but ignored (not undiscovered) articles that might shift your paradigm of, say, the concept of tithing in churches or the effectiveness of alternative education.
The man who shouts the loudest will get the crowd’s attention. It doesn’t matter if the man is saying anything important; the fact that he’s shouting it means the crowd is listening for however brief of a moment, and a handful will continue paying attention.
– Jonathan E. Mule
Homer Simpson, for example, can attest to the validity and degree of truthfulness of Mule’s quote.
This is especially dangerous when considering that, on average, the young generation spends north of twenty hours a week perusing the Internet and consuming content that doesn’t necessarily require the participation of the brain. What kind of teenager in their right mind would go on the Internet to learn something when there’s Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr?
For example, there is this thing called clickbait. An article titled, “Five Surprisingly Unhealthy Foods You Should Really Avoid,” makes you want to find out what these five surprisingly unhealthy foods are. And after reading the article, you find out that the five items were McDonald’s burgers, Domino’s pizza, soda with high fructose corn syrup, deep-fried potato sticks, and chocolate-coated chocolate balls with a core made out of chocolate. But the phrasing of the title lured you into wasting ten minutes of your time, hence the name “clickbait.”
The point is that we have too much information and no guidance to find content that actually matters. This means that a large part of our social structure is powered by misinformation and irrelevant content that has been filtered carefully, effectively puppeteering the lives of several generations worth of potential world changers.
In regards to how this affects the youth: they don’t get authenticity. Nobody looks them in the eye and calls them out on their bullshit, because the main source of information on how to live life comes from the media, which tells them that everything is ok. There is an overabundance of tolerance, anybody can do what they want to do, and nobody should judge a person who takes selfies at funerals and then posts those pictures on Instagram for the whole world to see. That’s fine. Why do you care? It doesn’t affect you. Mind your own business and be politically correct. If someone wants to take selfies at a funeral, let them do it, you know? It’s their life and they’re in control of what they do, and you need to be ok with that.
As William Ernest Henley said in his poem Invictus:
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
You are in control of your life.
What a sexy statement. I love that. I control my own life. Absolutely brilliant!
That is the biggest lie the media has effectively turned into a truth. Welcome to the Information Age and may the odds be ever in your favor.