by Pete Mazzaccaro
Fans and followers of technology can’t really go a week without someone rhapsodizing about how the spread of information online is enlightening everyone. Not since the printing press has any single technology made the world’s knowledge more available, thus leveling the playing fields. No matter where you are or what you do, the theory goes, everyone with access to the Web has access to all human knowledge.
Hand in hand with the gospel of Google, however, is the rising tide of fear and loathing that the very same Web that has weaved this great informational revolution is simultaneously eroding our rights to privacy. As we surf through the great treasure troves of learning, the big, data hungry tech companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook compile electronic dossiers that can, the most fearful among us believe, be turned over to the Feds at a moment’s notice.
But is the Internet really so all-knowing?
On Monday, as I began to contemplate the topic for this very piece, a breaking wave of disbelief was forming over an apparent case of mass ignorance regarding the Titanic.
The ship disaster, popularized (I think it’s fair to say) by James Cameron in the 1997 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is marking its 100th anniversary. The resulting press and a documentary by Cameron evidently set off a flood of shock and disbelief by young people who had no idea the movie was based on a real event.
The surprised Twitter users began tweeting their disbelief for the whole world to read. A typical sentiment was: “Wow. I thought Titanic was just a movie. Mind blown.”
The skeptic in me assumes that a good number of the tweets were a gag. But I’ve also been around long enough to know that whenever you really don’t believe how ignorant people can be, you’re likely going to be wrong.
Here the relevant info on something as historically significant as the Titanic is literally a simple Wikipedia search away, yet so many were still taken by complete surprise that something only 100 years in the past was real.
What does this all prove? Maybe not a whole lot, other than that the truth of the matter is never really as big as people assume.
We can put technology on a pedestal and credit its rise with everything from easier research to the Arab Spring revolutions of a year ago.
Or we can fret about its meddlesome disruption of so many things we’ve held dear for so long, like the record store, cable television and newspapers.
But in the end, it’s really just another tool. And no matter what the tool is, be it t_he printing press or the World Wide Web, the people using the tools are still going to be, well, people.
Technology has certainly changed a lot about the way we get and trade information. As much as many might disagree, I don’t think it has made us less intelligent. But I think it’s also safe to say in the face of bright and shining evidence that it hasn’t made us any smarter either.