“If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud.” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile
If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog, you have probably noticed a trend. For someone that relies on technology, the Internet, and social media, I maintain a particularly cynical view about the implications of being constantly connected. I acknowledge the irony in this considering that without these advances in modern technology, I wouldn’t be able to get this message out today. But with all of the convenience and opportunity that it affords us, there is still an elephant in the room and that elephant’s name is accountability.
Just the word accountability makes a lot of people uncomfortable. It can elicit feelings of fear or shame or visions of being interrogated with a warm light bulb inches from your face. At the same time, it can serve as one of the most powerful motivators when seeking to make change or accomplish a new goal. If you’ve ever worked for someone, participated in a team sport, or been part of a large project, you know exactly what I’m talking about. When there is a risk of letting someone down, the stakes are much higher. And yet, in a world where many of us spend the majority of our time behind a computer screen, the face of accountability has changed. As someone that has bounced between working in an office environment to working remotely, I can attest to the difference between the physiological impact it has when someone is confronting you over your shoulder versus over the phone or in an e-mail. It’s a powerful force, but one that has become far less familiar in a world where face to face communication is declining rapidly. And therein lies the elephant.
I recently listened to the commencement speech given by Ben Horowitz (of venture capital firm Andreesen Horowitz) to the 2015 graduating class of Columbia University. In it, he poked fun at his experience as an undergrad going to a completely separate building from his dorm room to do research and using something called a card catalog to look up the location of books in the library. It made me think back to my early years of grade school when I was taught to do the same. Prior to the internet, doing research was time consuming. While this made the process less convenient, it also forced you to be deliberate with your intentions. If you weren’t selective about the information you were gathering, it meant multiple trips to the card catalog and stacks of heavy books that you had to leaf through to find information and answers followed by the arduous process of supporting your findings with citations. Today, this process has been replaced by 10 keystrokes (google.com) or a simple tap of your finger on a smartphone. If you haven’t grasped my point yet, it’s that we’ve lost the deliberation that comes with sound information gathering and sharing. If you care to dispute this point, I encourage you to open Facebook and tally up the number of articles being shared to the tune of “10 ways to be more productive” or “The 5 things every successful person does in the morning” or “The best ways to burn stubborn fat” or any other ambiguous clickbait that we all fall victim to daily. Suffice it to say, for all of the “information” we have instant access to, the vast majority is unreliable or some form of a glorified op-ed at best.
If we care to stymie the deluge of misinformation that pervades the online channels we rely on, it’s imperative that we hold ourselves to a higher standard. I’m filled with concern every time I hear someone tell me they are trying a new diet or workout plan that they read about online. While not all of the information out there is flawed, I can’t help but wonder if they took the time to fact check the source or think about whether or not the information applies to them in the same way it does to others that have used it before. In fact, part of the reason I view this topic as so important is a direct result of the countless conversations I have about nutrition and fitness that start with, “I read this article my friend shared on Facebook that said…”. It’s true that information from our peers is often viewed as far more reliable than from someone we don’t know, yet when it comes to our health, no two people are exactly the same. I know because I’ve given the same nutrition advice to twenty different people in a group and each and every one of them gets different results. This is precisely why it’s imperative that we all take a moment to pause the next time we decide to share something online or buy into information that we gathered through a blog post (oh the irony!). While there is no lack of data at our disposal, there is often a severe lack of quality in the data. The next time you are curious to learn more about a particular topic, rather than sprinting down the quickest path to the answer, I encourage you to explore the path that requires slow and deliberate steps. It may take a bit longer to reach the destination, but it will carry far more meaning and empower you to share your experience with the conviction and confidence that comes with thorough analysis and critical thinking.
Have you had an experience where you’ve felt betrayed by information you thought was reliable? What filters do you apply when gathering information online? Share your experience in the comments below.