ONE OF THE Root Causes For CURRENT Challenges Of Our Civilization: Lack Of Information Quality
Sometimes it is most difficult to trace down a broad diversity of challenges to their common root causes. However if you can treat the root, you trigger a broad, positive cascading effect of solutions. I’ve identified 2 root challenges in the past month: negative externalities (more here) and exponential population growth (more here). The 3rd massive root cause for the challenges we face is the viral proliferation of low quality information.
The problem of low information quality plagued our societies in the past, for instance during medieval times. It used to take monks years to copy a book by hand. The New Yorker Phillip Patterson wanted to know what it was like to copy the bible by hand. It took him 4 years of 6 to 14 hour days to do so. In medieval times you had to be very rich and powerful to afford or to publish a book. Thus information was conveyed by “agents” such as priests and messengers. A lot of information traveled via word of mouth. If you ever played the Telephone Game you know what happens: everyone sits in a circle, you whisper something to the person next to you, who does the same. By the time the message goes around the circle and returns to you it often has changed dramatically.
It may be counter intuitive that the invention of the printing press in the year 1439 made things even worse. After being reserved for traditional power structures, misinformation was becoming somewhat “democratized”. Anyone with a few coins could have a pamphlet printed. Alongside the good and valuable information, many extreme viewpoints could suddenly reach broad audiences. The early phase of this new era of mass communication was loaded with misinformation. It captured millions of people and flowed across borders with ease. Sounds familiar?
The next mass communications revolution that disrupted the printing press was radio and TV. However it was capital intensive and information was curated by an independent press. The internet and social media put publishing tools into the hands of everyone. This bypassed the curators and editors who followed journalistic standards. Today just like in medieval times everyone has access to a massive amount of low quality information, proliferated due to the viral effect of social networks. This process is unfortunately easier to misuse. Since the quality of our institutions depends on the quality of the information they use, we see a destabilization in many areas of life. When we solve this problem, many other challenges will dramatically improve as a consequence.