According to the study by a US “think tank”, the smartest president in recent times was Bill Clinton, followed by John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter. At the bottom of the list were George W. Bush and his father.
All very interesting, but is it true? Well no, it is not. The whole thing was a hoax perpetrated by a group of US college students who wanted to see how far they could push a rumour.
That they succeeded so well is worrying. But amid the roar of information technology, no one bothered to check the authenticity of the supposed study until it had received wide currency.
The information revolution offers wonders in a world of unbounded curiosity. We can connect to oceans of data on the World Wide Web, explore virtual realities and theoretically connect with millions of people. It also has led to an increase in our freedom to choose information sources and has become an engine of the postmodern economy.
But we could be in danger of losing our souls in cyberspace.
The world has greatly changed since 1943 when Thomas J. Watson, then chairman of IBM, said: “I think there is a world market for about five computers.”
Years ago, the book Virtual Gods quoted social critic Jacques Ellul as saying technological progress “has its price,” because it raises more and greater problems than it solves. Ellul said technology’s benefits were inseparable from its destructive effects, and that every major technological innovation led to many unforeseen consequences.
Philosopher Albert Borgmann has cautioned against demonising new technology, but noted that information could illuminate, transform or displace reality.
We wake to news on radio, read the news on the phone and fire up our computers at work. Back home, the television and internet waves of information wash over us.
We live in a world devoid of quiet, where every surface shouts and every silence is filled. You can get lost in the digital cosmos.
Borgmann points to the void we feel when a power strike deprives us of information. The world closes in; it becomes dark and oppressive.
Borgmann wonders if we are in danger of drowning in the information flood we have loosed. He questions whether information technology is creating a new division between the haves and the have-nots.
And are those of us fortunate enough to use a PC sometimes losing sight of reality?
E-mail and texting makes distant friends seem closer, but the communication is disembodied. It is easy to feel connected to people around the globe via the Internet, while neglecting neighbours.
By removing the “real life” element from spiritual experiences, we may be losing something that is vital to mysticism.
Borgmann and others say there is a connection between technology’s progress and a decline in faith. We are embracing virtual realities that have little to do with genuine reality.
The assault of self-promotional verbiage, porno, gossip and untruths drift untethered through cyberspace. It is a jumbled culture.
Some leading postmodernists aspire to a future in which the Internet would function as a godlike force: omnipresent and omnipotent.
Butt there is more to learning than information acquisition.
People learn best in supportive communities, not sitting alone before a computer screen.
As Kahlil Gibran said: Progress is not merely improving the past; it is moving forward towards the future.