Enrique Dans
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Enrique Dans

IMAGE: Mohd Azri Suratmin — 123RF

From the information age to the reputation age

One of the best articles I have read recently is by the Italian philosopher Gloria Origgi, and is called “Say goodbye to the information age: it’s all about reputation now”, which discusses the ongoing transition from the so-called information age, when what mattered was access to as much information as possible, to the reputation age, when the name of the game is being able to distinguish between reliable and unreliable information, a skill we need to teach our children from primary level onward, and about which I have written on numerous occasions.

If more and more of us now take access to information for granted, then what matters is knowing how to manage that information. The new idiots, in the literal sense, are those people who search for something online and who systematically accept as the absolute truth the first result they are given, or those who swallow every hoax that pops up on their screen or who are incapable of differentiating a reliable source from an unreliable one. Information is only of value if it has been verified, filtered, evaluated and discussed, and reputation is thus the basis of our collective intelligence construction process.

Believing conspiracy theories and assertions with no scientific basis, whether they’re against vaccination, about chemtrails, that we never landed on the moon or that climate change does not exist, automatically label us as misinformeds fools unable to differentiate the truth from nonsense, the new illiterates, who can be easily manipulated. These are the people who help spread lies and impoverish the internet — and society. The new idiots pass on hoaxes they receive through WhatsApp groups in the hope of being seen as smart, somebody with their finger on the pulse or who is trying to make the world a better place. All this starts in childhood: YouTube Kids is awash with videos about reptilian conspiracies or that say the moon landings were a hoax, as if it were okay to expose young minds that know nothing about fact-checking to this garbage; meanwhile, their parents are just glad that their children are out of their hair for a few hours.

Countering these issues by taking our children’s smartphones away from them or restricting how much time they spend at their computers will not help our collective evolution into the reputation age: instead, we have to incorporate those devices fully into the educational process, teaching them not so much about technology, but information management. We need to get rid of textbooks once and for all and collectively understand that the truth is not necessarily to be found in this or that tome: the truth is out there on the internet, and we can find it if we know how to filter, to check sources, compare and contrast, separate the wheat from the chaff and develop critical judgment. That is the fundamental skill we have to teach our children… and clearly, one that many of their elders need help with as well. Framing the discussion about internet use in terms of addictions completely misses the point: this is about education. There is nothing wrong in being connected at all times, as long as it’s done with the appropriate criteria.

For some reason, we have tried to eliminate debate and questioning from education, we have become complacent, while our children are being deprived of the opportunity to prepare for a world in which smartphones will be ubiquitous and correct use of information essential.

We have arguably created the most powerful tool in our history and then placed it in the hands of people with no training, critical judgment or understanding of technology; people who perhaps believe that a smartphone or a computer gives them some kind of status, when the reality is that, lacking any kind of criteria, they are vehicles for misinformation. The idiots of the reputation age maybe older people who have failed to adapt, they may be younger people who have not been taught the real potential of technology, or there may be any number of other reasons. Either way, we face a major challenge and one of the reasons why I continue working in education is the conviction that we still have much to do in meeting that challenge.

(En español, aquí)



On the effects of technology and innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

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Enrique Dans

Professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger (in English here and in Spanish at enriquedans.com)