Whether on social networks or any other online activity, the amount of time we spend on the Internet these days has reached the point where it can be either beneficial or harmful, but almost never neutral.
This is not another piece about the Deep Web. This is an article about the regular Internet. The one that used to be the go-to place for knowledge, discovery, cool stuff, dumb jokes and everything in between. The inspiring, thought provoking hub where everybody could build something regardless of their popularity. The place where less-that-perfect search engines didn´t simply mirror our previous queries but instead returned random findings that made us discover things that would otherwise remain completely unknown.
Nowadays, our whole Internet experience has been reduced to just FacebookInstagram, Google, e-commerce sites, a couple of news portals, series, movies and not much else. And that´s not the only problem. Or the worse one, either.
INTERNET CAN BE A MACHINE OF COGNITIVE ATROPHY.
Your brain welcomes the mental gym required to perform a simple Internet search. It flourishes when it encounters different opinions and its viewpoints are challenged and it grows when it learns new things.
But if the mental effort required for searching stuff online is reduced to virtually zero, if nothing really new, challenging or thought provoking ever comes up anymore, if all you see is a reflection of your past queries, if everyone in your circle thinks just like you and expresses the same opinions, your brain power will atrophy because it needs to exercise.
For all its benefits -and there is a TON of those-, technology takes much needed work out away from our brain and the big Internet sites have a big portion of the blame.
CUSTOMIZED ONLINE ENVIRONMENTS ARE ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE GROWING POLARIZATION OF SOCIETY.
If someone´s environment -both digital and real- is diverse and rich with different perspectives, chances are, by sheer exposure, that person will be more open minded and educated when it comes to dealing with conflicting opinions.
But if someone lives in an environment where everything is a reflection of his own thoughts and opinions, then that person will be unaccostumed to encountering contrary viewpoints and dealing with them in a constructive way.
Social networks and Google make people more intolerant because they construct bubbles through excesive personalization. They create a biased reality where everything is just the way we like it. And the more we inhabit that reality, the more we believe it. This days, our whole online experience is a huge echo chamber were our own opinions are reflected back at us and nobody is exposed to contrary viewpoints. Therefore, when we do encounter different opinions, we are not prepared to deal with them in the best possible way.
Social networks are great allies to the overall antifragility of stupidity because, by wrapping us in a cocoon of likemindedness, keep us from exposition to different viewpoints and instead infuse us with confirmation bias and narrative fallacy.
The most direct path to regaining Internet´s potential for discovery is eliminating customization. Ideally, kill your Facebook and Instagram accounts, stop using Google services and use instead a search engine that doesn´t track your searches, like www.duckduckgo.com . Also, delete your cookies and clear your browser history on a regular basis. If that is not an option, reduce your visits to to social networks as much as possible.
All of the amazing things Internet has to offer are still there and there´s more of it all than ever before. We just have to look harder and skip all the suggestions thrown at us. We can use Internet for great things. Or we can use it for the crap we currently use it for. It´s up to us.