Every time new inventions and technologies have arrived upon mankind, there have been critics of them. Some of these criticisms are valid. Even the observations upon which these criticisms are made are not obvious to everyone. For example, it would be rare to notice like Tristan Harris, how particular designs of apps and interface psychologically affect the users. The vast majority of users are simply going along with a process, but few would consider the implications at the level of a designer and how much it affects society at large. Aside from disappointments of that nature, perhaps the more obvious disappointment is with the information itself. That s what people feel more readily and also respond to it. Isn’t it so?
Building an interface by means of which human beings could use machines to access, respond to, and share information has continued to hold promise. The most honorable use and the most dishonorable use of the same technology depends upon the user. Even the same user can use this most versatile tool to any end he may choose. There can be loving discussions with friends and family via the Internet, reading books, and looking at art. The same channels can be used for gossip, gambling, and pornography. If individual human rights and freedoms are truly to have a permanent place along with some kind of social order, then it has to be dealt with at three distinct yet interrelated levels:
- The source of information
- The user of information
- The information itself
The source of information against criticism
It should immediately make sense that discrediting a source of information is the greatest possible attack upon the information itself. It could be likened to criticizing a river. If the river is polluted, its water would be considered unfit for consumption. Unless the water can be treated and purified, no person would wish to drink or use its water unless there is a dire need. People need water and severe thirst would make a person overlook even the obvious pollution.
It is the same with contaminated information. If the people who work for an institution can be discredited, and that discredit is exaggerated to mean that an entire institution is unworthy of trust, then this is the most extreme judgment. It instantly reminds one of the phrase, “Fake news“, now instinctively attributed to the US President, Donald Trump. Since it is such a black-and-white judgment, it is countered with the phrase, “Real news”. Either cannot be correct. There is no possibility of perfection. No source is flawlessly good, or purely evil in its information output. To discredit a source and make it perceived as illegitimate is the greatest assault. Such criticism should be the final judgment, and that too after giving the source sufficient opportunity to admit and make corrections.
Yes, the news is a specific form of information. It is supposed to be held to the highest standard of correctness. However, the news or any other source of information can only be measured against human standards. Perfection is not human.
The user of information against criticism
Users of information are not the end of the information cycle. Yes, a cycle goes on; it does not end. Users today respond to information through social networks, blogs, and personal websites. So, they themselves, become producers of information by way of opinion, insight, commendation, or criticism. There is also new information produced by users, but then, they cease to so clearly be categorized as sources of or responders to information.
A user can use his or her critical thinking. Yet, it would only be an assumption, that a user would be free from any personal objectives and be totally committed to some truth. More than the possibility of truth, there is a possibility of finding agreeable and disagreeable views. Information gets unmanageably divided at the individual level. It is good because it shows personal freedom. It is bad, on the other hand, because there is possibly no standardization and conformity to information. It might thus be understood at the level of the objectives of users and producers of information.
Black-and-white criticism from the users toward a specific piece of information or a source of information does happen. It is visible. Once again, it is important not to lose sight of objectives of the users. This is how social networks and the societies they serve organized: People choose a leader, and each leader develops a following. However, it is not how ideas or information are to be examined. One person or source can produce many ideas. We cannot blindly agree with all, or reject all.
The information itself against criticism
If a criticism is to be truly countered, it has to be done at the level of the information. This can be done in two ways – in a general way, and in a specific way. A general countering of criticism can be exemplified in the case of two different poles, say – atheism and belief. If the distinction is so clear as to choose one or the other, then it is best to stay away from arguments or debates. The information is available to all. Each person is free to make a decision about it through personal judgment. What use is it that believers accuse, fight, and condemn atheists while the atheists accuse and fight against the believers! Beyond the arguments, there are specific objectives and complex reasons for a person’s choices.
Finer distinctions in information and the beliefs it can elicit can be exemplified in the case of few men sitting down and discussing their favorite cricket stroke. One man likes the straight drive, another the square cut, and another one likes the leg glance. They all agree about scoring runs and having a fair game, but can discuss or criticize shot selection or way of playing. At least, they have in common the liking of the game of cricket. A man who likes table tennis might have new insight and a criticism that no cricketer would think of, but discussions might not persuade him to abandon his choice and take up a new game.
The point of this is to appreciate how broad and how narrow human views, interests, and preferences can be. If members of society can simply see themselves co-existing, then these differences don’t have to matter so much that everything falls apart. People have remained together in societies, appreciated differences, and even found positive ways to help each other. This isn’t impossible. What makes it seemingly impossible is extremism. Extremism fundamentally has pride and insecurity under its obviously visible surface.
We have the means, but society needs time to find balance
We have now, unparalleled technology, especially when it comes to communication. Human beings have always communicated. We have never been able to do it on a scale as we can now. We are beginning to appreciate just how varied and diverse mankind is. This does not have to be the reason to let frustration grow to a point where we simply see no hope. There is hope, and there is a future! To give up hope is to accept calamity.
We should spend a little time thinking about how far we have come in achievements and in making possibilities come true. If we cannot change the information, we can change how we deal with it. We can change how we respond to it. We can choose even not to respond, and let sets of information continue to exist simply for the sake of peace. Criticism and judgments are part of human thinking, but overly giving them importance and letting all of society get entrenched in debates and arguments is unhealthy. It is, frankly, dangerous. Some thought needs to be given to the possibilities for the future. We can choose peace over violence, sustenance over destruction.