Clelia Frondaroli | Head of Comment
Has our increased access to information really made us more knowledgeable? I found myself wondering this when, on a Sunday morning, I looked at my coffee and realised I wouldn’t be able to explain how a coffee bean grew. Although embarrassing to admit, I am not alone in my ignorance: over 69% of young adults in America could not locate the UK on a map; over 23% of them believe the Holocaust was a myth. In the current age of the internet, google alone processes more than 200 petabytes of data each day (where one petabyte of data would be equivalent to 11,000 HD movies); the world’s knowledge through books, journals, and research all made available to us in a matter of a few seconds. Yet, as hate speech and racial slurs increasingly grow and disseminate across social media platforms and the internet, it is difficult to believe that whilst our access to information has improved exponentially, our ignorance has not.
However, why is this the case? When Donny Miller stated, ‘In an age of information, ignorance is a choice’, he failed to acknowledge that this ‘age of information’ does not exist without flaws. The sheer volume of information amassed over the last two decades has shown that quantity of information has not necessarily equated to quality of information and given the rise of phenomena such as fake news and echo chambers, the information we see online today can be deeply misleading. In a study commissioned by Zignal Labs, they found that there were over 200 million monthly engagements with fake news stories on Facebook, with 86% of American adults admitting to have not fact-checked the news they read before sharing it with their family and friends. Although it is currently understood that ignorance arises from (as defined by Cambridge Dictionary) a ‘lack of knowledge, understanding, or information about something’, the same could be said about it arising from inaccurate or false information.
Furthermore, in an era of anonymous freedom of expression and a plethora of viewpoints that all oppose and contradict one another, the internet has given ignorance a platform to breed. The lack of regulation on these sites has meant that conspiracy theorists, radical nationalists and extremists all have a space to freely disseminate harmful ideas to a wider audience, where it is shared, multiplied, and believed.
Perhaps then, the act of ignorance is not a choice but rather a product of our complacency to take the information we come across as fact. Ignorance, like knowledge, must be revised and checked, and if we fail to critically examine and research the news we read, the amount of information we receive will not make us less ignorant. Going by the words of one proverb, ‘There is no shame in not knowing; the shame lies in not finding out’ and to not find out is where our ignorance truly lies.