I'm With Stupid

By Keith Kloor | May 30, 2011 10:43 pm

The findings from this new study “reveals the downside of our hyperconnected lives,” writes Jonah Lehrer. Social media, he says, may be facilitating “new forms of collective action,” but

it has also enabled new kinds of collective stupidity. Groupthink is now more widespread, as we cope with the excess of available information by outsourcing our beliefs to celebrities, pundits and Facebook friends. Instead of thinking for ourselves, we simply cite what’s already been cited.

Er, this notion is just stupid, says John Hawkes, who’s not impressed with the echo chamber = groupthink meme now making the rounds.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: social media
  • Sashka

    I’m with Lehrer. IMO Hawkes failed to make any coherent points.
     

  • http://rankexploits.com/musings lucia

    Sashka,
    I’m with Hawkes. IMO, Lehrer wasn’t coherent. :)

    Actually, just to inject diversity: I think in some circumstances, people do collectively narrow down their views based on groupthink.   The situation created by the research team is precisely the sort of situation likely to narrow down diversity of opinions. The students were asked something, the gave an answer. Afterwards, they were told what other people thought, and changed their answers toward the mean.  That’s often what people will do if they initially had no particular confidence in their guess, and are only told what others think.

    But that’s not the situation that always prevails.  In real life, people often get curious about what the right answer is. Left to their own devices at least some people will go out and try to learn what the right answer is. This could involve looking up the answer in a dictionary, encyclopedia, wikipedia, or doing some actual research involving experiments computation and so on. They, various people will discuss what they found.

    So, the sum total of knowledge grows.

    It’s true that the internet permits people with similar interest to find each other, and it’s also true that the group could fall into the trap of “group think” and go off on an incorrect path for a while. But this was true before the internet too. So, big whip.

    Both pre and post internet, there will always be some people who belong to more than one group simultaneously and some people who listen to more than one group.  Post internet some people will do shallower google searches; some deeper. Some will turn off the preference feature (I did.)
    Arguments will be heard and spread because some people want to read a diversity of arguments. People will read both Lehrer and Hawkes. Hawkes is closer to right.  If you people don’t get your argument, make a better one. Or consider the possibility you are wrong. Don’t try to blame things on “the internet”.

  • Sashka

    I’ll agree that the truth is somewhere in between. But I still think that Lehrer is closer. In particular because (I believe) the number of people who would go out of their way to independently find the right answer is very small. As a long time observer (and – admittedly minor – participant) of the climate debate, I have a lot of observations to confirm it.

  • http://rankexploits.com/musings lucia

    Sashka–
    I didn’t say a lot of people would go out of their way to independently find the right answer.  Only a small number need to so for the correct answer to propagate out over time.

  • Sashka

    Why do you think the right answers will propagate instead of decaying into oblivion? Or maybe existing a stationary mode somewhere at the outskirts of public conscience? I don’t see much evidence for propagation in the climate debate.

  • Michael Larkin

    “it has also enabled new kinds of collective stupidity. Groupthink is now more widespread, as we cope with the excess of available information by outsourcing our beliefs to celebrities, pundits and Facebook friends. Instead of thinking for ourselves, we simply cite what’s already been cited.”

    Nah. Collective stupidity has always existed, and there are no new kinds of it; just novel ways of indulging it. The Internet has just made it easier for people to adopt the approach they want and locate kindred spirits – who might be clever, stupid, biased or open minded. What is different is the speed of transmission of information and thus the rapidity with which various kinds of groups can form and mobilise; and they’re not all inherently bad or subject to “groupthink” in a pejorative sense.

    It can actually facilitate the investigations of an independent thinker. In a very short time, one can get a grasp of the range of opinions about an issue and begin to explore many different avenues. One could make a case that it is as much anti- as pro-groupthink. As always, it depends on the cast of mind of the beholder.

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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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