Rumours, Lies and Post-Digital Critical Thinking

There's a generation of people - this born before the mid-80s - who have lived in the pre- and post-digital worlds. What responsibilities does this "bridge generation" have?

The clue is in the name: NEXT is about, well, what’s next.

But context, as Robert Scoble has told us, is everything.

And what comes next emerges from the ashes of the past. And there’s a group of us – myself included – who sit in an interesting position, straddling the pre-digital world and the post-digital world.

These people, says Harris, are the last of a dying breed. “If you were born before 1985, then you know what life is like both with the internet and without. You are making the pilgrimage from Before to After,” he writes. It is a nice conceit. Harris, like your correspondent, grew up in a very different world, one with limited channels of communication, fewer forms of entertainment, and less public scrutiny of quotidian actions or fleeting thoughts. It was neither better nor worse than the world we live in today. Like technology, it just was.

As I look at my daughter – just turned 2 – I see a girl who has no sense of linear TV, and who expects every show to be available any time she wants it. Photos exist on screens to her, and are equal in standing with videos. When I was a child “moving photos”, as my daughter calls them, were silent – and they involved my Dad setting up a projector and screen to watch them. She doesn’t – yet – know the concept of the internet, but to her it will be like water or electricity was to me; something we just had, all the time.

The digital bridge generation

So, here’s the question: are we just a quirk of time, a generation trapped between two worlds? Or do we have an opportunity – and a responsibility – to be more than that?

The book discussed above – Michael Harris’s The End of Absence – explores some ideal – like periods of disconnection, for one.

I wonder if there’s something much simpler we have to do, though – and that’s teach the next generation about critical thinking.

Critical critical thinking

The one thing the internet has done comprehensively is destroy the old authority that was implicit in information. For something to be published, it almost always went through series of editors or other experts. Companies that built up trust survived, and those that didn’t were brought down by the huge overheads of publishing. But now, anyone can publish. The act of publishing no longer carried authority. And that can be dangerous.

If we’re not careful, we’ll teach the next generation our reflexive habit of putting trust in things that are published. Right now, as I write this, there’s scare in London, with social media speeding the suggestion that people should avoid the London Underground tomorrow. The authorities have declared this a hoax:

Inevitably, though, the rebuttal is less spread than the original misinformation. Would a little training in critical thinking – in analysing the source of the information and in looking for corroboration – help? I rather think it would.

What else might this “bridge generation” have to offer the post-digital world?