Freeing Information

My MacBook died a few days ago. The main logic board (motherboard) failed. Until it's repaired, I'm limited to a tiny netbook or borrowing a computer. It's been frustrating, but it has also led me to think about the value of free information.

With the birth of the Internet, it became easier than ever for people to exchange information. Granted, a lot of that information is questionable. The Internet is full of misinformation, prejudice and bad spelling. But it can also be used to share valuable information. Kids can get homework help from uncountable resources, and people who are ill or injured can find support or new treatment options. Learning is no longer limited to a classroom or library.

The Internet has been an important step in the journey toward free thinking. As history has shown, those who have the knowledge often want to control how, and what, others learn. They may keep knowledge hostage to increase their own power, or they may be afraid that the knowledge will be twisted or misinterpreted by the uninitiated.

Yet free information has a profound effect on a society. Yes, the Internet can be a place to reinforce misinformation, but it can also be a place to hone critical thinking skills. By learning to sift through the din to find reputable sources, or back up new knowledge with simple fact-checking, people can learn to separate fact from fiction.

This is not an easy process, and it is one that many people overlook. Too often, information on the Internet is taken at face value, regardless of its veracity. But in time, people may begin to become more skeptical. It starts with one basic idea, "You can't believe everything on the Internet."

Once a person realizes that they can't believe everything online, they are forced to decide which information they do want to believe. They have to ask questions. They have to wonder who put the information out there. Some people then learn to ask the next important question of why someone put the information online. These are the seeds that lead to critical thinking.

Not long ago, information was locked away from average people. (It some places it still is.) During the Dark Ages, the Church, which ruled over all, famously made it illegal for average people to own (or read) a Bible. Up until a few decades ago, the Catholic mass was led in Latin, and some Catholics today (including the Pope) support the return of the Latin mass.

I was raised in a Catholic church, yet most of the priests and teachers I encountered encouraged questions and critical thinking. Some of us asked a lot of questions, and others were content to blindly follow. I was often told that faith was strongest in those who take the time to question it. Some who asked questions are Catholics to this day. Others, like me, are not.

The Internet may be full of conflicting, and questionable, information. But this freedom of information is necessary for the development of critical thinking. The free exchange of conflicting ideas can ease open a closed mind, allowing questions which may ultimately lead to reasoned living (with or without a belief in god) instead of blind faith.

1 comment:

  1. Very true, but unfortunately there are people that still choose to believe the incorrect information or the first link the search engine supplies.

    ReplyDelete