December 4, 2022


Knowledge is Power

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. According to the Founding Fathers of the United States, these are the most basic human rights that everyone is guaranteed. They act as an umbrella for other protected freedoms such as religion and representation in a court of law. But perhaps one of the most important human rights is the freedom of thought. This often times falls under the freedom of speech and expression, but it might also fall under the pursuit of knowledge. And it is almost always the first right to be restricted in dictatorial regimes. Hitler accomplished this in the mid 1900’s by destroying books that contradicted his ideologies and punishing professors who refused to conform to his standard of teaching. Communist Russia and China do this now by censoring online resources that do not originate in their country. People smuggle hard-drives into the country with forbidden movies and pirate books such as George Orwell’s 1984. But those that break these laws are punished severely. And yet, they risk their lives to pursue knowledge of the outside world. Perhaps the reason why 1984 and other such forms of entertainment are banished is because of the ideas they hold. Ideas of unrestricted thought and the right to pursue knowledge. Ideas that every human being craves to possess. Censorship of certain materials and restrictions put on freedom of speech and press limit people’s ability to think and destroys the knowledge of the modern world.

In some cases, censorship is necessary in order to prevent discrimination from happening. A professor making derogatory comments towards a certain group of students should be punished, as with the case of a USC professor who made a derogatory joke about welfare to an African- American student. But a professor who speaks of freedom of speech and unrestricted knowledge is only a threat to a despotic leader. Pinar Selek faced two decades worth of punishment because he was explaining his viewpoint on the Kurdish problem in Turkey and was falsely associated with an explosion in a marketplace in a ploy to discredit his image. Something similar happened in Brazil when three professors were threatened with their lives because of the work they were doing on the gender division in the workplace. Only those that fear opposing ideas and change have any reason to try to destroy the lives of individuals searching for the truth.

There are also serious psychological problems linked with the suppression of individual liberty and thought. It causes the person living under such conditions to slip into deep states of depression as they start to doubt their own self-worth. It is why so many people in communist-run countries attempt to seek refuge in democracies such as the U.S.; so that they may have the choice to pursue their own personal happiness and understand that they are a human being with worth.

But as time goes on and technology progresses, is the U.S. much better off than nations already overtaken by communism and dictatorships? Every U.S. citizen is being watched, one way or another. Whether it’s through security cameras in stores or by posting personal information on social media, Americans are making it very easy for the government to keep tabs on their lives. In some ways this is good; police now turn to social media to find clues and evidence to prosecute criminals. But in other ways, it’s bad. Because most social media platforms are privately owned, the company can decided what people can post. They can flag someone’s account as offensive and have it shut down. While this is needed in some cases, this power can very easily change from helping the greater good to silencing opposing viewpoints.

There is no one way to fix this issue. There are many powerful people out there who will stop at nothing to crush opposition. There are people today fighting against regimes like this. But many pay with their lives. What we can do, however, is work to ensure this doesn’t happen in democratic nations. People need an awareness that the government and special interest groups can turn a harmless social media post into a weapon. We are willingly giving up our rights to privacy for security, but it will only be a matter of time and who gains power before that security infringes on our right to free thought and the search for knowledge. But those who can clearly see when this begins to happen will be able to change the world, forever. 

Does us think lesser because internet?

Every second, the internet transfers over 51 thousand gigabytes of data, and each day Google processes over 3.5 billion searches. These are mind-boggling statistics from this internet statistics website, but what is less well understood is the effect that massive data flow is having on the mind. As The Atlantic writer Nicholas Carr puts it, “what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.”

But is that the only effect? With so much information readily available and easily referenced, cross-referenced, and double-cross-referenced, the scientific and engineering communities have seen massive booms in nearly every field of study. An experiment or invention could be completed and replicated within a day nearly anywhere else on the globe – and results could be shared in real time. Global events and politics have been impacted in unimaginable ways – with a quick search, one can glean the most important information for the day, the week, or a hundred years past. The issue comes in how that information is organized, and why it became that way.

The concept of gleaning information quickly is a relatively new one, and it is economically incentivized for internet-based corporations. The way it works is relatively simple: advertising pays per view, which generates a push for quick flitting from hyperlink to hyperlink for websites. The way to get people to move is relatively simple as well: spread out information, and give “digests” or “summaries” that are enough for a cursory glance but won’t satisfy an avid reader. The result? Webpages are designed to push the reader from link to link, moving like a caffeine-frenzied monkey from address to address. The system is training people to skim information, fidget around for a bit, and zip along to the next one because that is how the system makes more money.

This invention of ten- or two-second repositories inevitably simplifies text. Although people are reading more to take full advantage of those pockets, the language used is simpler. According to an n-gram search provided by FiveThirtyEight of Reddit, words like “complex”, “language”, “that” and “phrase” have declined in use rates while others have stayed more or less constant (“crazy”), and a few have experienced rocketing growth – including abbreviations such as “lol”. Even “the” and “that” have declined in use. While Reddit is not necessarily indicative of the internet at large, the trend is noticeable elsewhere. (If you take a look at Google’s n-gram engine and compare words like “hippopotamus” and “hippo”, you will notice that the abbreviation tends to climb while the lengthier word declines, particularly in the mid- to late-1900s and 2000s—coinciding nicely with the advent of the internet).

Just because there is a correlation does not imply causation, an important distinction to make, but one of the most noticeable features of dystopian literature is a simplification or stripping of language (from Newspeak in 1984 to book burning in Fahrenheit 451 and the more modern simplified vocabulary of Brave New World). Although the world is not heading to unthinkington as these novels may have you believe, the language we use is changing because of the influence of the internet. In the end, it is up to each person to keep thinking and challenging themselves and those around them, against the negative influences of humanity’s most esteemed tools.

Unknown Silence

Throughout my life I have had a fear of sitting in silence, forcing me to need noise in order to be productive. Whenever I find myself in silence I begin to conjure up moments in my life that caused a lot of frustration, fear, and  anxiety, making me question why this is so? Why is it that I would I rather hear the static of a radio than nothing other than my own thoughts?

In reading “Our Fear of Silence” an article that was written by a meditation instructor I found that my fear may be attributed to the fact that in modern time we have the option to have intentional noise, which are things we turn on to produce noise, such as iPods, TVs, etc. 

In a study done by the University of New England, it was found that the lack of noise or the need for background noise is a “learned behavior.” The students in the study were all found to have grown up with background noise from T.V. and other electronics. Therefore causing them to associate background noise with the comfort of home when their parents would leave the T.V. on when they were kids. 

Along with those students, I myself grew up with background noise and now choose to have intentional noise as comfort, instead of the unknown of silence.