I am by no means perfect. If your first thought of me is that I think that I am, you’ve mistaken my intent or, at the very least, my style. I think I’m probably wrong most of the time. I think you probably are, too. Why do I think this is so? Imperfect information.
In today’s world, we all have a constant stream of information coming at us from every direction. The information age is a terrifying and wonderful time to be alive. But in this powerful era of mass media and instant connectivity, information has, so far, become more commodity than instruction. Every piece of data we receive today seems to be selling us something.
Politicians try to sell a world view upon us, in exchange for support and power. Television tries to sell entertainment to keep us transfixed. Bloggers try to impress us with individual perspective and sagacious wit, in exchange for clicks and subscriptions. Social media “stars” vie for our attention and friendship. And I haven’t even mentioned commercials yet, whose sole purpose is to save our lives with drugs that will kill us or to save our lifestyles with goods that will thrill us.
But this information is incomplete. It uses selective facts to persuade us, to dissuade us, to beguile us, to distract us. And it works, or they wouldn’t try so hard.
On the other side of information is the endless data at our fingertips, for personal exploration. By recent accounts, we have entered the zettabyte era of the internet. What’s a zettabyte? Back in simple computing we learned that a bit is a binary digit and a byte is 8-bits. That’s equivalent to one character on a page. A gigabyte, a familiar term to most of us, is a billion such bytes. An exabyte is a billion of those gigabytes. In other words, a billion billion bytes. A zettabyte is a thousand exabytes. One thousand billion billion bytes. That is the equivalent, according to Live Science, to 360 centuries of high definition video. And, of course, the internet is growing exponentially. You’ll never finish it all, no matter how much you lounge this week.
But we do have access to all of it now, or at least most of it. Some of the information is kept on the Deep Net, beyond our sight. That’s probably for the best, because the stuff we don’t know is likely far more alarming than the stuff that we do know.
The stuff we do know, however, is preposterously imperfect. Even if we could sit around all day and just surf and dig and learn we’d never know, well, everything there is to know about, well, anything.
Imperfect sources of data fill our imperfect brains and form our imperfect world views.
It’s mind-boggling that any of us ever think we’re right.
But we do. I do. I have very strong convictions about a good many things. I’m one of those folks that loves to share ideas with others, even very strong ones. I love to argue debate talk about stuff. I even really feel I’m right about a good many of the things that I say. But I also know I could be wrong.
In religious terms, this means that there could very well be a God, or a bunch of them, though I don’t believe it. In fact, the universe would be a much safer place with one, great loving creator, and a richly more interesting place with a bunch of competing ones. That’s a universe I’d like to live in. I don’t think that I do, but anything is possible.
In political terms, this means that the trickle-down theory of economics may very well work one of these days, though it never has before. In fact, it likely never will because of the inherent self-interest of human nature and the inevitable corruption of power and capital. But I could be wrong. I have imperfect information.
And so do you.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have opinions. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t hold them dearly to our hearts, and have strong convictions about them. It does not mean we shouldn’t debate them fiercely. What it does mean is that we should bear in mind that we don’t have all the answers. Anyone who says they do have all the answers is sadly misinformed, dangerously demagogic, or is trying to sell you something. For some current world leaders, all three of those are true.
There’s a thousand times a billion billion bytes of information out there and none of us have read it all. And a thousand times a billion billion bytes of information can’t cover everything we could know. Not even close. So without perfect information we are stuck sitting here, in our little towns on a little planet in a little solar system in a vast universe guessing every single day.
I’m willing to bet we’re mostly guessing wrong.
But what do I know?