I received my first smartphone in July of 2011. Everything changed.
My family had just received a large windfall of money from the government, so I got a top-of-the-line LG Revolution (it was pretty bad) and got a hand-me-down car after I passed my driver’s test shortly afterwards. In just a couple weeks’ time, my whole life had changed. But only in retrospect do I realize that.
It’s flabbergasting to think that, ten years ago, smartphones were not actually that popular yet, and the technology was still in its infancy with slow 3G speeds and clunky apps. My first experience with a smartphone blew me away. The touchscreen responded fluidly; websites loaded in mobile form most of the time and when they didn’t it was easy to zoom and fix; there were so many arcade-y games, all for free! I could message friends instantly on the go without typing for ten minutes to get a 15-word sentence.
What mattered most to me, though, was the fact that I could look up anything I wanted, wherever I wanted. The world’s encyclopedias encapsulated in a small square that fit in my pocket.
Really, here in 2020 it feels like a different era. When have I ever been without the ability to access almost any information or contact almost any person? Aside from intentionally avoiding the internet, the only other time I’ve felt this way was a month in Japan as an exchange student, where public wi-fi was rare and I didn’t get a hotspot until later.
But back in 2011, it opened my eyes to a brand-new life I only thought possible in science fiction movies.
My first memory of the ease of research was shortly after marching band practice. Everyone was getting ready to go to lunch and two of my friends were talking about the primary colors. I have no idea why, but when the subject came up, I mentioned that the primary colors of light are actually red, blue, and green, not yellow like in painting. They said I was flat-out wrong. I knew I wasn’t. So… I looked it up on my phone and showed it to them.
However, they didn’t believe me, and kept arguing with me about it until I gave up.
And that’s also the first example of how easy research has basically become a poison to people like me.
I constantly have the need to fact check myself and make sure I am not spreading misinformation or just outright wrong about different things. Whether it’s a real life discussion or a debate about something stupid in the comments section of a Youtube video, I feel the need to do quick research and make sure I’m right. Other people, though? They don’t care. It is irrelevant how many facts you give or evidence you show. Even in person, correcting people on things usually just results in them digging their heels in further.
Unfortunately I can’t help myself. So even simple forum threads can become a major time suck if I need to look up everything before I post it. And even when research is as quick and easy as ever, people simply do not take the time to look up anything at all.
I mean, we certainly saw that in the 2016 election. Russians disrupted the election by making fake social media accounts, but the content they made and misinformation they shared was generally of the “Wow This is Extremely Fake” category. People believed ourtight lies because it was text put on an image and posted on Facebook.
Research is extremely easy, but nobody does it except the people who are stupid, like me.
Stupid or Stubborn Makes No Difference
One recent example of this dilemma for me comes from some online chatroom I participated in. People were talking about writing and one of them asked about the grammar in a particular passage they had written.
One of the lines featured the term “it’s creator.” Obviously, it was supposed to be “its creator.” I mentioned that, and then then some pea-brained person lambasted me and said “it’s creator” can be used in this passage. “It is creator” is not grammatically correct in any context and I knew that 100% with no doubt in my mind. So then… why did I look it up anyway? Why did I do five minutes of research to make sure I got all the terminology right and then explain how “its creator” is the only acceptable answer? Because the pea-brain refused to believe me and went off talking about something else. They certainly didn’t look it up. They just believed that they were right and fed the first person a grammatical mistake.
Smartphones don’t actually improve our lives through easy research, not so long as people are idiots. Will future generations improve? Will the kids who grew up with smartphones learn to better orient themselves to the ease of instant research? Somehow, I doubt it. It’s more likely that they’ll be just as gullible and just as lazy and cycle will continue.
And I’ll probably still be arguing with strangers on the internet while looking up all the facts that are promptly ignored.
I’ve done some other dumb stuff involving the internet, such as trying to abandon it for several months in 2013. Read about that here.