Jerry Seinfeld once found it amusing and amazing that all the news happening around the world could exactly fit in one newspaper. But that was the day before yesterday. Today, anyone with an internet connection and a social media account can make the news or make it to the news. Everybody can finally have their five minutes of online fame. That which doesn’t go ‘viral’ is not ‘newsworthy’. More than 40 percent Americans consume news online today, and they consume more of the news they ‘liked’on Facebook yesterday. The newspapers would soon carve their own epitaphs in their obituary columns. The TV is also terminally ill. It is fair to conclude that by 2025, most people in the developed world will likely watch their television programs – including the news broadcasts – over the internet. By 2030, possibly every Earthling will.
Today we live in the age of boundless information. The news is consumed as it is created – sometimes even before. Today it is even difficult to define what exactly can be called ‘news’. The internet, it appears, has everything you want to read. And yet, it has nothing.
Too big to know
There are more than 1.2 billion websites on the internet. The number of available apps in the Google Play Store was placed at 3.3 million in September 2017, after surpassing 1 million apps in July 2013. If you want to know ‘more’, you can keep on clicking forever on the ‘five things’ and ‘ten things’ you ‘must know’ or ‘don’t know’. So big and distracting is the internet that we don’t recognize knowledge when we see it.
Those who want to truly know must move from ‘data’ to ‘information’, and then to ‘knowledge’. But there are many gazillions of bytes of data and information – more than a zettabyte (1 followed by 21 zeroes) at the start of 2017 – on the internet. What to read, and what to skip? Your life becomes more difficult if you are starved of time. What if you have just ten minutes to become knowledgeable enough? You will want an application – an app – that can do just that for you. But most apps merely aggregate news from various sources and list them for you. You still have to click and read them to understand if they are or aren’t useful. True, you can directly visit the app or the website of your favorite newspaper. But that comes with a selection bias. You don’t get to read the other point of view. The other view, as the world came to realize in 2016-17, matters.
Knowledge or its illusion?
You must have recently met someone who has no idea what they are talking about but is supremely certain of their superior knowledge. This over-confidence is a human attribute from the Stone Age, but the internet has made matters worse.
In a paper published in the ‘Journal of Experimental Psychology: General’of American Psychological Association in 2015, Matthew Fisher, Marriel K Goddu and FC Keil conclude that people who search for information on the Web emerge from the process with an exaggerated sense of how much they know—even regarding topics that are unrelated to the ones they ‘Googled’. The trio conducted 9 experiments to show that searching for information online leads to an increase in self-assessed knowledge as people mistakenly think they have more knowledge “in the head.”
People frequently confuse outsourced information with internal knowledge. They searched for it, so they know it. The bigger problem is that they don’t know that they don’t know.
Seek, but you shall not find
In the fourth century BC, Greek sophist Gorgias took great delight in narrating his ‘doctrine of the non-existent’ to his audiences: 1) Nothing exists; 2) If something does exist, nothing can be known about it; 3) If you did accidentally learn something about it, there is no way you could communicate your knowledge to others and 4) If at all you could communicate it to others, there is no way it could be understood.
That was the problem of knowledge. That is still the problem of knowledge. You think the search result you chose to click– usually one of the first three – is reliable. But is it? There are many sides to each story. But how can you know how many?
The machines cannot help either
This is the era of machine learning, but the machines become continuously ‘wiser’ based on our constant feedback. And our feedback is rooted in our biases. Try training a machine on climate change.
Haunted by questions such as these, in a brain- and heart-storming session in Bangalore, the idea of Knappily was born. Knappily – the knowledge app – assigns the task of knowledge creation to a team of experts who ask and answer six questions – What, Why, When, Where, Who and How – to analyze the news and current issues. It is now the highest-rated news analysis app on the Play Store. But then, again, our expert may be your novice. An attempt to answer the question must not be confused with the answer itself.
[The author is the CEO of Knappily, one of India’s most popular news apps]