Wait, but why?
We all search the Internet many times a time, and get answers, but this is not good enough. In today’s world of misinformation, we can’t simply use basic queries. Our questions of Google are more and more nuanced, and we are drinking from a firehose of news, “expert” opinions, and fortune-cookie advice…24/7.
Think like a researcher
Sometimes, scientists write bad research papers; bad meaning the researchers conducted an experiment that was one-sided, collecting data that only validates their hypothesis, and “throwing away” data that doesn’t agree with what they expected. This is bad science, and hopefully the peer-review process will expose these issues, and later papers will not cite this biased paper.
Even with the rigorous peer-review process, there are tons of “bad,” research papers: biased, boring, or inconclusive. The Internet is 100x worse.
To avoid the bad information trap on the Internet, you must be a rigorous Searcher, not settling for the first few websites you come across, not settling for your go-to media outlets, and not staying put in your Twitter or Facebook bubble.
What you can do now
One of the most important and impactful things you can do is to check sources, and ask yourself, is this information from a trusted source? In today’s world, trust is a floppy concept, but I’ll save my thoughts on conspiratorial thinking for a future post. The important thing to remember here is just that if something you read/watch/listen to, doesn’t provide sources, it’s a red flag. Evaluating the “truthiness” of a source is another topic that I will save for a possible future post, as it is nuanced and requires multiple frames of thinking.
Once you have identified the sources, click on them! Think like a researcher, and track down citations. You want to, little by little, get into the mind of the author, and start forming an understanding of their beliefs. If you’re surprised, that’s great; and if you start questioning, that’s even better! Don’t be afraid to be a little confused; it’s all part of the thinking process. As one of the most important political theorists of the 20th century, Hannah Arendt, said:
This fear of self-contradiction is why thinking itself is dangerous – because thinking has the power to uproot all of our beliefs and opinions about the world
What you will be able to do later
Looking at the problem of Internet searching from a technology lens, we can see that our current Internet browsers are not built for helping us be good Searchers.
I think that as the world continues to become more and more complex, Internet browsers will innovate to help us Search better, building features like mind-mapping, graphs, and visualizations. These are all critical to being a good Searcher, and to being an informed, thinking person!
I also think that browsers will build in features to stop bots and fake accounts, and create spaces that serve as bridges between different pieces of content; for example, there may be a “bridge of links” from an article to a video or a podcast, and contradictory links that show multiple perspectives of the same event.