What’s the most important skill to learn in our digital age?
What matters today, in the Internet era, is not whether you know a particular fact but whether you know where to look it up, and then, how to verify that the answer is reasonable. – Daniel Levitin, The Organized Mind.
We are internet explorers, we spend the most of our time exploring, collecting and organizing the internet information to make the best possible use of it. But this is not enough, we now, more so than at any other time in history have to verify that each answer is reasonable.
Of course, there are hundreds of individuals distilling information online but how much of what they say is true?
I am afraid there are additional interests in creating digital distilled content. Someone may write for the pleasure of writing, he may also write to get more traffic or maybe just for the sake of spreading intellectual poison.
It’s okay to create multidisciplinary reading diets but you must be aware of what is cheap and stick only with qualitative information.
Here are some things you should do to avoid being consumed by large amounts of cheap information:
- You should take the responsibility for verifying and applying critical analysis to each information source.
- You should read and consume information of lasting value
- You should avoid getting sucked in off-topics not related to your intellectual needs.
Here is Daniel Levitin advice on the importance to control what you are consuming:
More so than at any other time in history, it is crucial that each of us takes responsibility for verifying the information we encounter, testing it and evaluating it. This is the skill we must teach the next generation of citizens of the world, the capability to think clearly, completely, Analyzing Information Sources.
When you search for a specific topic on Google you probably tend to search for information that supports your world view and less likely to alternative possibilities which may challenge your views. But this will only feed your confirmation bias. Here is why:
Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and other search engines track your search history. They use this information for auto-complete, so that you don’t have to type the entire search term in the find window the next time. They use this information in two additional ways—one, to target advertising (that’s why if you searched for new shoes online, a shoe ad shows up the next time you log into Facebook), and the other, to improve the search results for each individual user.
The net result is that you are more likely to be given results that support your world view and less likely to encounter results that challenge your views.
But what happens when there are many different types of information sources from which to choose?
There is an old saying:
A man with one watch always news what time it is; a man with tho watches is never sure.
Here is Barry Schwartz the author of The Paradox of Choice giving an answer to this question:
Giving people too many choices tends to lessen their satisfaction.
This seems to be true, after being presented with too many sources of information you get suddenly trapped in a choice paralysis which is caused by too many options and this may lead you to decision paralysis, the complete lack of ability to decide.
Then what’s the best decision-making strategy under circumstances in which an optimal solution cannot be determined?
Optimal complexity theory states that there is an inverted U function for how much information or complexity is optimal. Too little is no good, but so is too much.
Be a satisficer not a maximizer.
Here is Schwartz relating on the ideas of psychologist Herbert A. Simon defining the maximizer and satisficers construct:
- Maximizers. Are people who, given a choice, will exhaustively search all the options, seeking all possible information, in order to make the best possible choice. This behavior generally consumes a lot of time, and often leads to nagging doubts, perhaps where no one clear winner emerged.
- Satisficers. Are those who settle for a choice that is "good enough" for them. These people are generally happier with their choice, and spend less time choosing, leaving them free to enjoy other things.
I would say that knowing what you really want not what you think you want prior to being overwhelmed by too many options helps you pay less attention to what you don’t want, which is all that additional unnecessary information that traps you in a choice paralysis.
Given a limited resource, you can also consider the opportunity cost. Ask yourself what you have to give up to get that choice you want? Is it worth paying the price by exhaustively searching all the options in order to make the best possible choice?
I often ask myself what to trust and what to discard while distilling information that has already been purified. Searching what isn’t in your interest its energy consuming while reading stuff not related to your intellectual needs is wasting time.
What sources of information you trust? What do you read online?