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Diversity of Thought: 3 Ways to Think for Yourself in the Digital Era

By: Lawrence Chan and Daniel Smith

Spoiler alert: Is Technology making it challenging to think for yourself?

Days after Netflix reveals their new Top 10 feature rating system for viewers, it is clear that we as a society now arguably need help making even the simplest of choices. Even something as simple as deciding what to watch on TV. On the surface, this seems perfectly acceptable. However, could it be a sign of something potentially troublesome on the horizon?

Let’s be clear, we agree that social norms are important. They help us make sense of the world and those around us. From an evolutionary perspective, our species simply would not have made it this far without learning to rely on each other’s guidance for how to behave.

However, adverse impact is a thing. Is there such thing as an overreliance on social norms? Can our reliance on social norms be taken so far that it can reduce our ability to make our own decisions and create our own unique thoughts? Matrix, anybody?

Who, or what, might we be delegating our decision making to? And more importantly, what unintended consequences of such delegation might arise? And what impacts might this be having on our society’s ability to solve increasingly complex problems?

With a growing reliance on technology to help us make decisions, this may affect us in more ways than we think. Over time, this may be detrimental to diversity of thought because people are going to be watching the same things, and thinking in the same ways… even more than we already do. The allure of the initial autonomy in the example of Netflix, a.k.a. the idea that I can watch when I want when I want to, now faces tremendous hurdles. The simple decisions we make are becoming less and less ours. Groupthink becomes a socio-virtual phenomenon, in even the simplest decisions that affect our everyday lives.

The question then becomes: Is it an algorithm, others, or is it our own free thought that is driving our decisions?

Although we agree that this can be a heavy topic to discuss, we’d like to provide 3 relatively light, simple suggestions to ensure that you engage in more autonomous decision making. Importantly, we argue that when performed over time, these three things can lead you to being able to generate more unique thought, and on a societal level, greater diversity of thought. And maybe, just maybe, a greater ability for our society to solve increasingly complex problems in the future.

  1. Produce as much as you consume. Instead of just watching, create more content of your own. Try to spend the same amount of time producing as much as you do consuming.
  2. When you watch, watch something unique. Watch content that is different from what you normally watch. Perhaps don’t utilize the Netflix Top 10 list. Have you ever seen The Music Man? It is a classic and is worthy of any Top 10 list.
  3. Diversify your sources of consumption. Have a balanced palate. Be mindful of how what you expose yourself to influences how you think. You might want to read, play board games, do activities outdoors, reconnect with nature, or go to a live performance. Try and go to sources of unique forms of entertainment, try something different. The old is the new, new. Again, have you seen The Music Man? You should if you haven’t.

In the words of Harold Hill, “We got trouble! Oh, we got trouble!”

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