The Age Of Un-Enlightenment

  • Beatrix Azfar

The Age of Enlightenment was characterised by the rise of the scientific method, rational thought and scepticism; There was a belief that this would set us free from ignorance and irrationality. However, we are now experiencing a paradigm shift with technology and social media at its heart. We are witnessing the rise of a new culture of ignorance that has had far-reaching consequences. The internet is ever-growing in size and scope, encompassing all facets of life; however the online bubbles we inhabit as individuals are growing ever smaller. The algorithms behind deciding who sees what on their news feeds aim to show content that is relevant to you, based on previous interactions, likes retweets etc; the effect has been the creation of filter bubbles. “Personalization filters serve a kind of invisible autopropaganda, indoctrinating us with our own ideas” (Pariser, Filter Bubble Book). Every post we like; every tweet we retweet; every link we visit is recorded and refines our news feed. What gets shown to us, therefore, is the information we already agree with and does not challenge our prior knowledge or assumptions; This insulates us from reality and shields us from the perspective of others. Such intellectual isolation, which makes it hard for people to think beyond their narrow self-interest, has had disastrous consequences. Isolated from diverse points of view, people have become more intolerant of information that challenges their worldview, coarsening discourse, polarising and balkanising the electorate. This fact has been taken advantage of. In 2016, during the US Presidential Election, Cambridge Analytica developed user profiling off the back of Psychographic Data Analysis, targeting Facebook users with specific political ads in order to influence their voting behaviour. It worked, at the expense of our democracy. The dissemination and acceptance of misinformation is rampant, we are consumed by a full blown “Infodemic”. If the Age of Enlightenment was characterised by rational thought and scepticism, then our new world of blind acceptance and filter bubbles is akin to the Age of Un-enlightenment.