Maddy Hammett

It is difficult to discern where the line between intelligence and elitism falls. I have found that often individuals who pride themselves on their intelligence have been perceived by their peers as being pretentious. You may have rolled your eyes reading this issue of the newspaper already, perhaps just the lede of this column, thinking to yourself, “is part of their grade seeing how many big words they can jam into one sentence?” Don’t worry; our staff is self aware, we have that at least. But really, I have found that many have a strong aversion to our newspaper and our perceived style of writing. Every issue, without fail, I hear from joking students, “does anyone actually read the paper?” They say this to the co-editor-in-chief. While they could pick a better audience, their question, in my opinion, does hold some merit. Does anyone actually want to read the paper?

When these jokes inevitably circulate with the printing of each paper I find myself wondering why some community members have such an aversion to our paper. I wonder why they view additional, optional reading as a chore. I wonder why they find stories curated for them to be boring or too wordy. Only the “controversial” stories seem to get students’ attention. At some point in between issues I always wonder at what point will our paper have to introduce click-baity, conspiracy-esq headlines and stories in order to cling to relevancy. I have found in my three years on staff that only the most outrageous opinions and stories have been the ones to gain any real traction among the student body. Our generation is the google generation. Because of that, we’re losing interest in mediums, like newspapers, that still hold merit.

According to nonprofit think tank Studio ATAO, American anti-intellectualism can be defined as “a social attitude that systematically denigrates science-based facts, academic and institutional authorities and the pursuit of knowledge.” In short, anti-intellectualism is the dislike for anything perceived as intellectual. As redundant as that sounds, it really is that simple. Something that has been difficult for me to understand surrounding anti-intellectualism, however, is where it comes from and why it is seemingly growing to be worse in the country. After much consideration, I have come to think that there is a growing anti-intellectual culture because of the pervasiveness of technology.

We have to develop a communal understanding that the people we interact with may know and experience more than what we could ever conjure on an Apple product.

Maddy Hammett

I can understand how this sounds contradictory. The invention of search engines that allow access to over a billion web pages filled with endless answers to endless questions ostensibly would create the perfect climate for a thriving, more educated populace. Upon learning of a recent phenomenon, as explained in Tom Nichols’ book “The Death of the Expertise,’’ I learned that this assumption was, in many ways, incorrect. The book argues that with the creation and accessibility of search engines and infinite web pages, the trust that was once vested to traditional experts and intellectuals has since been rejected.

This shift has been seen most prevalently on social media with anti-vaxxers and Covid-19 deniers. Our centerspread this issue covers the harmful impacts of conspiracy theories and how, with their dissemination, there is a growing distrust in the government. Conspiracy theories have existed forever, but the forums i.e. Twitter, Instagram, etc. that are being used to spread these theories have only been created in recent years. My primary concern with these conspiracy theorists lies not only with potential deaths that could result from the Covid-19 specific theories, but primarily with the general distrust of intellectuals. Our country is seemingly shifting toward a greater trust in Google than in degree recipients.

Opinion researchers at Germany’s Allensbach Institute  surveyed 1,000 representative citizens in each of the United States, Great Britain, France and Germany in June of 2020. After data collection, the survey found that one in every five younger Americans has heard of the conspiracy theory that Bill Gates plans to implant microchips in people to make them easier to control. The survey found that one in every 10 older Americans had heard this theory. These survey results, in my opinion, are indicative of the impact that technology has on the psyche of young Americans.

I’ve seen this distrust of the expert in our own community and in myself as well.

While scrolling aimlessly on Twitter and TikTok, I have happened upon compelling information and theories that I find myself wanting to believe. Life would be easier if the pandemic weren’t real and if Adam Lanza had really not taken 26 lives in the Sandy Hook shooting. Part of the issue lies in the way in which this information is received. When scrolling on social media, we are looking for entertainment, and in that act, we can begin to conflate facts with entertainment. When we see these videos on our feeds, we forget that real lives are being discussed and that there are individuals with knowledge that extends past what we can access through our screens.

We must be more vigilant going forward. We have to properly vet sources and the people we are choosing to platform. We have to develop a communal understanding that the people we interact with may know and experience more than we could ever conjure on an Apple product.

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