A couple of days back I had a pain in the palm of my right foot. Since I wasn’t able to diagnose it myself after trying out some home remedies, I resorted to what most of us do in such a scenario – ask The Internet. I was instantly flooded with pages and pages of various remedies, todkas, and nuskas of what could have been the cause, right from nerve pressing to deficiencies to what I should eat and what I should not. All this plethora of information seemed to perplex me and I had no other choice but to start sieving through all the links one by one right from the top.
In the 80s, two unassuming medical researchers made an astonishing discovery - ulcers are caused by bacteria. A significant discovery at that time as if it was so, then by a simple course of antibiotics ulcers could be cured. But unfortunately, no one believed them. One of the prime reasons was that these two researchers weren't even scientists. Robin Warren was a staff pathologist in a hospital in Perth and the other, Barry Marshall was a thirty-year-old internist in training and not yet a doctor. Another reason was the origin of this claim – ‘a medical researcher in Perth was perceived to be like a physicist in Mississippi’, went the critics. The medical fraternity expected the discovery from Ph. Ds of leading universities or top-notch professors or from world-class medical centers. Interns certainly can’t tell make such a discovery – they have no credibility. As a result, both Warren and Marshall couldn’t even get their publication accepted by a medical journal. When Marshall did present his findings at the conference scientists and medical faculty simply giggled. Cynics believed that the theory was based on correlation and not causation. The bacteria, H. Pylori, as it would be named later, was present in all ulcer patients but not vice versa. In 1984, fed up with the criticism, one morning, Marshall skipped breakfast, and as his friends watched in horror, on empty stomach he gulped a bottle containing 'a billion H. Pylori' which he said “tasted like swamp water” later. To prove the medical fraternity wrong, he cured himself with a course of antibiotics. Only then did this catch the wind of some scientists and ten years later, in 1994, this was finally endorsed by the National Institute of Health. In 2005, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for their world-changing insight.
Now despite being grateful for the invention of the Internet and subsequently on the availability of so much information on it, I was faced with the same obvious emotion that the medical fraternity giggled at when they first learned about what Warren-Marshal claimed i.e. doubt and disbelief. The problem here I faced was that I didn’t have any clue on the veracity of the articles that show up on my search. I haven’t heard of any of them and I mean anyone can put out an article on ‘7 remedies to fix Pain in Feet’ rip info from the Internet, do a little bit of SEO-shit, and great!, the page should start to show up right-on-the-top of the ‘Pain in the Feet’ searches. This is how the Internet works and how our inherent biases work too. Either we mindfully look for credibility by digging in deep or simply fall for anything that we come by. The fact that a page appears on the top of our search automatically lends it a huge amount of credibility, no matter how inauthentic it really might be (I am not saying it necessarily is but can be!) Our thinking mostly would go like ‘look this is the first thing that has sprung up on my search, so this might be true or why else would The Internet show me.’ The algorithms can tend to invoke our inherent prejudices, biases, and natural proclivities. It’s hard for us to know that and this is where the most pernicious of the pitfalls lie.
At the time of Warren & Marshall, in the second half of the twentieth century, life was relatively less noisy and simpler (I guess). People watched the same TV channels, read the same newspapers, got to know and spoke about the same news, heard the same music, and talked about the same things (relatively). They were mostly coherent. Then came the Internet and things altered. It made us realize that ‘the power of information is just one click away.’ There was a new way of seizing power now – information. No, you didn’t have to climb the high ranks of politics, policy, or bureaucracy but you just needed to access the ‘desired’ information and use it against anyone over whom you wanted to gain power. The Internet is probably one of the greatest inventions ever made. But the problem isn’t the Internet, the problem is us. The inventors of the Internet had perfectly good intentions - like creating a digital world, global connectivity, information superhighway, easy access of that information for everyone, et al. I get that. But while they thought they came like Bane telling people of the Gotham city that “We come here not as conquerors but as liberators. People of Gotham take control, take control of your city. This is the instrument of your liberation.’ thinking that once everyone had an effective means of sharing their voice, the world would get better, that didn’t happen. It didn’t happen as the world doesn’t run on information. The world runs on feelings – fear, happiness, love, sadness, anger, doubt, disbelief, envy, hatred, admiration, et al. This is where the biggest pitfall lies. When you give people uninhibited access to the information superhighway, they will not search for something that would contradict their deepest held beliefs or emotions. They will not even look for what’s true but unpleasant but they will instead look for what’s pleasant but untrue. They will not contradict their deepest held shitty beliefs but instead try to find a way to corroborate them. The greatest invention, which was touted to give people what they need, instead gave them what they want, but do not need it. Sometimes what people want is just plain awful. Sometimes people get easily manipulated for shit they don’t want.
So what do we do?
Here I re-iterate about an article that I read some time back by Mark Manson titled ‘The Attention Diet’ in which he brings out two Goals of this so-called ‘Attention Diet’ as he puts it:-
Firstly, identify what stuff is worth paying attention to?
Secondly, find out nutritional pieces of information, to feed your mind.
He further goes on to highlight three Steps to the Attention Diet that are worth mentioning here again:
1. To cut out Junk information i.e. information that is unreliable, unhelpful, or unimportant. It is short-form content, flashy, emotionally charged, and addictive. Junk information hooks us because it is pleasing and easy, causing us to develop low-level addictions. Junk gives us an escape route from our daily stresses, and so eliminating this would be tough! It would trigger a volley of emotions inside.
2. To correctly identify Nutritious information, i.e. information that is reliable, helpful, very likely important. It is long-form content, thought-provoking, requiring deep analysis and reflection. Nutritional information, since it is long, will be considered boring. It will require us to stay vested on something for longer durations. It will be tough to consume such pieces of information but they will help you with some high-level behaviors.
3. Consciously cultivate habits of deeper focus and inculcate longer attention spans.
That’s why I implore you to take this time and try to sieve out the junk in your information life and make an effort to eliminate it.
Unsubscribe to crappy shit and subscribe to better shit,
Delete ridiculous phone apps and keep the ones with the most utility,
Stack yourself with the books that delve deeper and deeper into issues of interest to you and read what the experts have to say,
If you wish to search for information, I suggest you may want to stick to Wikipedia. That’s a no-bullshit unprejudiced and straight forward information to feed on.
His golden rule may be of help in such a scenario.
“In a world with infinite information and opportunity, you don’t grow by knowing or doing more, you grow by the ability to correctly focus on less.”
P.S. you may want to apply these rules to news channels also these days 😉