There’s no doubt about it; we are by far the most informed generation this world has ever seen. We are bombarded literally by the minute with information, whether it be the latest news, celebrity gossip, sports scores, movie showings (and spoilers), and even personal family events. All we gotta do is pick up that magical little gizmo we carry everywhere, tap the screen a few times, and we can get pretty much any information we want.
We also have the unprecedented ability to SHARE information with each other. It could be mundane, or it could be life-changing, but we can let everyone know what is going on pretty much instantly through social media. Bored at work? Turn on Facebook Live, and all of your friends can watch you be bored at work! Just got a passing grade on an exam? Shout it from the virtual rooftops with a picture of your score on Instagram. Heck, even the President of the United States seems to be addicted to Twitter (for better or worse).
While this ability to share information and stay informed is unlike any we’ve seen in history, it also comes with inherent problems. Prior to social media, information had to be obtained through a bit more laborious methods – trips to the library, buying a newspaper, or tuning into the nightly news. More often than not, this information went through at least some form of vetting prior to being distributed. That’s not to say that the information was more accurate in the past than it is now; it just means that more was at stake if said information was incorrect. If a newscaster wanted to keep his job, he had to be trusted by the general public, so his reputation was on the line with every single story he broadcast. Same with journalists and publishers. Sure, some still had an agenda (anytime a human is involved, there will ALWAYS be some sort of bias), but the risks were such that one or two “fake news” stories or pieces of misinformation could make or break a career (just ask Dan Rather).
Today, “fake news” is all the rage. It’s not about information so much as it is about attention. Want to look like a moron? Go for it, but at least you’ll look like a moron with millions of views and likes, which can be translated into monetary gain. Just look at the recent meme phenomenon/trainwreck, Danielle Bregolli, the 13-year-old delinquent whose single appearance on Dr. Phil turned her into an instant celebrity for being nothing more than a teenage brat. She’s now making all kinds of money, including commercial deals, from a criminal attitude and one single, poorly-enunciated phrase. She is this year’s “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”
That’s not to say that we can’t be entertained as well as informed. In fact, some of the most entertaining individuals are also the most informative. Look at The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight. Both shows feature biting satire, but also with a heavy political and social commentary tied to them. Again, bias is heavy, but it just goes to show that, if you have the right platform, your word can spread like never before thanks to online viewing and clips on YouTube.
But that leads us to the question – who should we trust for information?
In the past (I’m talking at least half a century, not last week), information was primarily obtained from folks who were older than us. Parents, teachers, mentors, clergy, they all played a part in making the next generation who they were in some way. They passed on what they learned to the next generation, who would repeat the cycle in perpetuity. Once again, bias was still present, as all of these folks had at least SOME sort of reason for passing along this piece of information over that, but for the most part, children learned from their elders, and young adults gained their knowledge from those older and more experienced. And aside from the schoolyard experience, that’s how information was accepted.
Today, however, with the never-before-seen amount of contact among our peers, self-education seems to have overtaken the history of passed-down education. Teenagers and young adults (millenials, if you will) are questioning, challenging, and often outright rejecting education from elders in favor of learning from each other, and in a way, it’s hard to blame them. Why continue to rely on one or two sources of information we we literally have a whole world of information at our fingertips? It also has resulted in a lack of trust among the current generation. With so many different variations of the same information, it becomes difficult to determine what the truth actually is (just ask Sean Spicer).
So the question then becomes, should the current generation start looking again to the previous to help vet some of this information, or has that model been completely outdated by the amount of (and access to) information available to us? Is it safe to learn with (and through) each other, or do we as a society NEED the wisdom and guidance of past generations?
From a Biblical standpoint, you can find many instances of being referred to wise counsel, and while that sometimes refers to elders (either as a governing body in the church or just someone older than you), it does not reserve wisdom and guidance SOLELY to them. If you are a Christian (as I am), you believe that God (through the Bible) is the one true source of wisdom, but how this wisdom is obtained depends on the person. Many churches, however, take this to to mean that ONLY previous generations have the authority and/or ability to train up the next generation. In fact, some church leaders take this to an extreme, refusing to accept any sort of input from younger generations, which is viewed as inherently flawed (“How can THEY possibly have more knowledge or wisdom than me? I’m older than them; I have authority over them; I MUST be right, and they MUST yield to me!”). Obviously, they never paid much attention to the books of Samuel, and how an 11-year-old boy was given knowledge of the fall of his mentor’s entire dynasty.
So again, back to the question at hand: is the time-honored tradition of passing down information from one generation to the next now outdated by the amount of knowledge and information available to us? In all honesty, I think the two models (learning from each other and learning from those who have gone before us) should work hand-in-hand. We have such an abundance of information, but we seem to lack the wisdom to determine what information we should take as definitive, which is where having guidance comes into play. Sure, we can question and challenge, but we should also be willing to accept that there are some folks who DO have the experience and wisdom to help you determine what is and is not right.