For the last few years, scientists have argued that we’re living through a distinctly new geological age. They call it the Anthropocene: a new age characterized by humanity’s profound impact on Earth itself as evidenced by pollution, mass extinction and climate change.
We are currently facing a new systemic collapse, one that has built far more swiftly but poses potent risks for all of humanity: the collapse of the information ecosystem. We see it play out every day with the viral spread of misinformation, widening news deserts and the proliferation of fake news. This collapse has much in common with the environmental collapse of the planet that we’re only now beginning to grasp, and its consequences for life as we know it are shaping up to be just as profound.
The digital revolution greatly expanded human knowledge and wealth much as the industrial revolution did 150 years earlier when new technologies, notably the combustion engine, brought about extraordinary economic growth. And much like the building of great railways and interstate highways allowed people to connect, the creation of tools that allow anyone to be their own publisher has made it possible for new voices to reach large audiences around the world.
But if the price of the industrial revolution was planetary destruction on an unimaginable scale, the digital revolution may be costly in a different but similarly destructive way. William Randolph Hearst owned the means of production and was free to publish made up stories to sell papers and stoke the Spanish-American war. Today, everyone is free to be their own propagandist.
The scale of the threat is hard to overstate. [Continue reading…]