View the archive of my 90-minute class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about how the Internet is reshaping the way we learn and think, and why, for all of its promise, seems to be creating as many problems as it solves.
My name is James Surowiecki. I’m a journalist and an author, and I’d like to invite you to my new class, Five Things I’ve Learned about the Wisdom and Madness of Social Media.
About fifteen years ago, I published a book called The Wisdom of Crowds, which showed how under the right conditions groups of people could be remarkably intelligent, and smarter even the smartest person in them. The key to the wisdom of crowds, I argue, is having groups made up of diverse, independent thinkers who are able to learn from each other but still think for themselves. The paradox of the wisdom of crowds is that we’re smartest collectively when people are acting as much like individuals as possible.
I wrote The Wisdom of Crowds before social media as we know it really became a thing – before Facebook or Twitter or Instagram came to play such a big role in the lives of so many of us. And over the years, I’ve thought a lot about the way the Internet generally, and social media specifically, is reshaping the way we learn and think and how it influences what we know and how we know it, and why social media, for all of its promise, seems to be creating as many problems as it solves.
The Internet is, in principle, an extraordinary tool for making us collectively smarter. It offers us access to an enormous range of information and data we otherwise wouldn’t have, and exposes us to perspectives and opinions we otherwise would never hear. But in practice, the Net, and social media in particular, often seems to make us dumber. Social media is built around the idea of influence, not independence, and as a result it often reinforces people’s biases, encourages the spread of misinformation, magnifies polarization.
So in this 90-minute class, we’ll look at how this works, and what we can do about it.
We’ll look at how we learn and how being in groups—even online ones—can shape our behavior. We’ll talk about the power of conformity and peer pressure, and the way social media works to amplify them, and about ways to combat them. We’ll look at why spreading misinformation works, how you can recognize it, and how you can debunk it without managing to reinforce it. And we’ll talk about how you can make yourself a better, sharper user of social media and the Internet.
In the process, I hope the class will help you make your time online more enjoyable and productive, and our collective crowd a little bit wiser.
I hope you’ll join me!
– James Surowiecki
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