The study that would become a media sensation started innocently enough. It was about ten years ago, when a 4-year-old naively asked her father, “Why do shoelaces come untied?” and said father, who happens to be Oliver M. O’Reilly, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, couldn’t come up with a good explanation, even after watching myriad YouTube tutorials. “It seemed like a great mechanics problem and no one had solved it.”
Not long ago, they were the pulse of the American political campaign: Mom and Dad, sitting in front of the nightly news broadcast on TV, armed with a dog-eared copy of the daily newspaper. The ads, the daily coverage and editorials, televised debates, polls and TV ratings—over dinner-table discourse, it all mattered.
In the Internet age, saying “I don’t know” about a political issue is considered socially unacceptable. After all, if we have all this information at our fingertips, the least we can do is a quick Google search. Like, really. It’s the least we can do. And the least is what most people do.
It’s hard to take a long look in the mirror and see blatant indecision staring back at you. So to avoid this self-reflection, there are ways to fake political knowledge. You know you don’t know anything about politics, but nobody else has to know that.
Ever see the TV game show Let’s Make a Deal? Contestants are given a choice of three doors and told that behind one of them is a shiny new sports car. If they pick door No. 1, the host may open door No. 2 to reveal that there’s nothing behind it. Then he asks if they want to stick with door No. 1 or switch to door No. 3. What’s the best move?
Posted on April 26, 2016 - 7:13am
In the fall of 1994, when I was a young reporter struggling to pay the rent, I wrote a cover story for the San Francisco Bay Guardian: “Plugging In: An Idiot’s Guide to the Internet.” I explained why a 14.4 baud modem was a great deal, and reported that the Internet was a fantastic resource because “all kinds of information are available.”
I am so, so, sorry.