It really simplifies down to confirmation bias.
When teenagers enter their early adulthood years (let’s say 20’s to 30’s) they are suddenly required to be able to express an opinion on matters of the world.
While required might be a slight stretch – it becomes important for this section of the population to identify themselves on the political, social, economic and religious spectrum. Why this becomes important can be explained by a multitude of reasons – in some circles it shows maturity, in others it is a question of teenagers being able to participate in democracy for the first time –vis a vis voting.
However when the younger generation is forced to express an opinion, it brings us to the interesting question of how people form these opinions on various subjects. How does a person state he is a liberal? How does one decide he or she is a communist? Whether it is my professor or numerous communication textbooks – they all seem to stress that “Nobody ever thinks for themselves. Influences are abundant – whether they are blindingly apparent or seductively subtle”.
In one stroke, the above thought process claims that all new ideas are merely improvements or modification of older ideas expressed by others. I do not agree with this. I don’t think that it has anything to do with people not being able to think for themselves; I think it really simplifies down to confirmation bias.
When the general human being is young – they don’t spare much thought to politics, economics, social sciences or civilization. Therefore, most people’s introduction to politics comes from their own household. It comes from over hearing the elders in your family talking amongst themselves or with other people. (An interesting point here that one should remember is that people generally only bring up politics with those who share the same leaning as them – as otherwise debates can become very nasty. This further compounds the problem – the average teenager doesn’t have a chance to listen to those who disagree with his or her parents.)
In addition to this, your parents will watch whichever news station generally aligns with their political leaning. Where does this lead us? It means that as we grow up, even if we are asking questions about politics and political subjects – wanting to know what this stuff is all about - we are receiving a highly one-sided version of the debate. Even later in life, in our late teens, it is entirely possible that (although with the Internet not so much anymore, but we will come to that a bit later) we become primarily surrounded by people/users and sources of information that support the narrow minded viewpoint that we grew up with.
Let us take for instance, a kid who was raised by a ‘conservative’ (politically) family. It is highly unlikely that even after the kid grows up he or she will actively seek out ‘liberal’ websites or go out and buy a bunch of liberal literature or start watching ‘liberal’ news channel to learn about ‘liberal’ politics. Why would he or she? Especially when there is a bunch of information to be found on their own sources of information concerning liberal politics – albeit with a conservative slant. This does not mean though that people cannot think for themselves, because to the contrary they are thinking for themselves by seeking out information that agrees with what they already know and believe. All they want is to simply learn more. In the end it comes back to confirmation bias. A lot of people choose to learn and espouse merely what they are exposed to early on.
We haven’t reached the scariest part however. This is where the Internet comes in. When you have access to the entirety of human knowledge (Jimmy Wales), it is very easy to feel that you are learning everything that you “read” online. You do not have to learn anything to ‘know it’ anymore. I cannot stress this point enough. This will become the leading cause of ignorance or pseudo-intellectualism amongst young adults. Why would it? Take for example an argument about politics. How long would it take each person to google and find a source of information that supports their side? When neither party is an expert, (and let’s not kid ourselves, who is these days?) the argument degenerates very quickly. The constant bombarding of information from the Internet leads us to reading information constantly without digesting it – so as to say. While the Internet is a useful tool, it can lead to the formation of a positive feedback loop. In this case, it is almost conducive to formation of such loops.
While the concept of a positive feedback loop is nothing new – it is reproduced on the Internet at an alarmingly fast rate. ‘Birds of a feather flock together,’ the saying goes. However on the Internet we find hive minds that are dedicated to espousing certain causes and believing in the same things. On forums and boards across the web, the populist opinion translates into ‘top’ ranked posts.
Consequently, posts containing conflicting ideas or an opposite opinion are not ranked highly – thus having a perceived lower value. This creates the illusion of consensus amongst the online community, therefore newcomers who do not have strong feelings on the subject or those who do not have the time to research into the subject see the ‘top ranked’ post as more credible and valuable. While this might not be a cognitive process, it happens slowly and surely. It causes subtle shifts in the viewpoints of impressionable teenagers.
The same can be applied to the real world. The ‘top-ranked’ posts translate into celebrities, movies, authoritative professors, people you admire or even parents. This does not mean that the people who fall into this trap are stupid or willfully ignorant. As we all know, even the smartest of people are very good at rationalizing their own thoughts.