Technology's power to misinform dims utopian hopes

Technology's power to misinform dims utopian hopes
This is the cover of "The (Dis)information Age: The Persistence of Ignorance." Credit: Peter Lang Publishing

( -- The ability for computer technology to automatically create a society of smart, tolerant citizens may be more hype and hope than reality,according to a Penn State Altoona researcher.

"We have to rethink some of our most common assumptions about modern life and, specifically, we need to rethink assumptions that the will naturally lead to a society that is intelligent and scientifically literate," said Shaheed Nick Mohammed, associate professor of communications. "In fact, we may have moved backwards in many respects."

Mohammed, who published his critique on and new media in the book, "The (Dis) Age: The Persistence of Ignorance" (Peter Lang Publishing, 2012), said that more information and more may not necessarily lead to the intelligent use of that information.

With the rapid increase in news and information distributed by such technologies as the Internet and mobile phones, people are struggling to tell the difference between facts and opinion, entertainment, and outright disinformation, according to the researcher.

"In the 1960s we were talking about information overload when we had 12 ," Mohammed said. "And now we are facing an exponential change in that ."

In addition to the amount ofinformation, Mohammed said that the number of tools people use to access information has increased. The Internet, , and social networks are some examples of tools people now use to receive news and information that were unavailable just a few decades ago.

Mohammed said that people who praise the role of information technologies and social networks in fostering democratic movements, like Iran's and Arab Spring, often ignore how the technology has been used to suppress those movements.

In 2008 the arrested 500 Egyptian activists, often using Facebook as a way to identify activist leaders, Mohammed said.

Oppressive governments also use social networks to spread disinformation. For example, Twitter accounts managed by government officials are used to spread fake videos and footage of pro-government rallies.

Hate groups and extremist religious factions are also using information technologies to spread both information and disinformation.

As corporations increasingly try to make money from information, the researcher said that economic pressure is blurring the line between news and entertainment.

"There is so much information out there that companies are trying to get the most attention," said Mohammed. "This leads to a concession to the grandiose and sensationalization."

Mohammed said he does not advocate eliminating information technologies completely -- a Luddite response -- but that citizens and scholars must begin to critically question and assess information sources and tools.

"It's about people and culture," said Mohammed. "Information and technology are just tools and tools remain tools."

Mohammed said that the transition to an information age is similar to the change to society caused by industrial age technology.

"We are just at the beginning of the information age and we are just starting to ask the questions," Mohammed said. "Just like we learned to adapt to the industrial age, we have to adapt to the information age."

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Apr 16, 2012
i'd like to think that this article doesn't say everything that is brought up in the book. The statement that the internet does not automatically create scientific literacy basicaly attracted me here. However, even with that basic sentence, i find it doesn't quite understand the problem. It's not just scientific literacy, but understanding of science and interest in being scientific that doesn't necessarily arise from the internet.

There's many problems beyond just the fact that the mere exisence of the internet does not make for a scientific society. Science and mathematics has many conceptual problems due to problems that have arisen in trying to do science. Non-Euclidean geometry started the problems.

The finding of Non-Euclidean geometry(in many different ways) started some to wondering about the nature of mathematics. Ever siince then, even in the mathematics field, all kinds of mathematicians have gone off on one tangent after another. Kronecker said god invented . . .

Apr 16, 2012
Google still defines the "quality" of an ad or site based on how popular it is, that is, how many "hits" it has....instead of based on the authenticity of the site's information.

Apr 16, 2012
. . . invented the integers, all else is artificialities. He did a lot of congruence integers methods to eliminate negatives, irrationalities, and imaginaries. This is just one instance of mathematicians and mathematics going off on some interesting philosophical tangents.

Soon, Bertrand Russel found paradoxes in Freges set theory definitions of number itself. Then, came Godel's theorems. Soon, there was every imaginable creed of the nature of mathematics. Intuitionism, formalism, logicism(even with Godel's theorems). This is just in the mathematical fields. Science has been going through all kinds of these offshoot philosophies.

Science and mathematics has not been immune to these problems before. Plato restricted mathematics to compass and straightedge. The Greeks as a whole felt that all celestial motions have to be circular . . . ;

In the twentieth century, we've witnessed a bunch of psuedo-science philosophy due to Einstein's theories of relativity and quantum mechanics;

Apr 16, 2012
. . . and now chaos theory. There's every permutation of these science philosophies trying to say what science is due to these scientific fields plaus mixing with various religions like Buddhisms and Taoism.

Some religions/philosophies have always viewed mathematics and science with either alarm or opportunity. This too has gone on since antiquity. Those who wanted to create mythology started mythologizing the sun and the zodiac from the Egyptian Osiris to the Persian Mythras, and then Jesus Christ(has twelve disciples; and if you know the pattern of the zodiac and read any of the gospels, you should see that Jesus Christs lifestory in the Gospels follows the pattern of the zodiac quite well!).

I've mapped this stuff out and tried to point these things out in my Jacob Bronowski's "Scientific Humanism" blog(including what I consider the true holistic understanding of all knowledge as first worked out by Jacob Bronowski)

Apr 16, 2012
we need to rethink assumptions that the information age will naturally lead to a society that is intelligent and scientifically literate

I think the mistake is to assume that most people are intellectually capable of using modern information tools to their advantage. Most researchers tend to have a blind spot because they live on a university, surrounded by smart, motivated people. They disregard the fact that most people are neither smart nor motivated. Consider that most researchers are going to have an IQ of 120 or higher. That means that they are living with the top 5% of society all the time. Now consider that 95% of society is dumber than them, and usually not nearly as well educated. Of course the technology revolution failed! How could it possibly succeed?

Apr 16, 2012
i'd like to see stats on i.q. distributions!

Apr 16, 2012
i'd like to see stats on i.q. distributions!

Hey "flashgordon":



That means you can actually "take advantage of the information age" and look up those stats, instead of wasting peoples time asking to be spoonfed a bunch of commonplace graphs that can simply be acessed by going to Google Images and typing the two letters "IQ."

This is a perfect example of how there can be a profusion of information and yet people still ask to be spoonfed...

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