neon sign that says "True"
Stop worrying about having the answer and start worrying about how we find the answers PHOTO: Jarrod Fitzgearlds on unsplash

Too often, our memories, gut instinct and opinions are simply wrong. Digital gives us the opportunity to base decisions more on reality and what is actually happening, rather than on what we think is reality or think is happening.

The whine that older people make about younger people is louder than any jet engine. It’s rarely based on fact, and more down to resentment that old people are old and secretly wish to be young again.

Millennials have been described as so lazy that most of them are still living at home with their parents. It is true that in the U.S., more millennials are living at home. That’s not because they’re lazy, but partly because they’re getting married later. Another reason, according to Amanda Ruggeri, “is the rising Asian and Hispanic population, which is more likely to live in multigenerational households.” In fact, economist Jed Kolko found that once you adjust the data to account for such democratic trends, “young people today are less likely to live with their parents than young people with the same demographics 20 years ago were.” Hmm.

Most of us adjust the data to fit our prejudices. Older people just love to let their prejudices towards youth flow out in bitter sentences full of bile. “They tried independence, it didn’t work, and that sapped their confidence and sent them home crying,” U.S. author Susan Littwin wrote in 1989 about Generation X. This empty, facile prejudice goes back to Roman Times and before. “There was a great reluctance to entrust honorable offices and liturgies to young people,” Christian Laes and Johan Strubbe wrote in their book, "Youth in the Roman Empire."

Young people are stereotyped almost as much as goldfish. You might have heard about the Microsoft Canadian study that found that humans now have shorter attention spans than goldfish. (I talked about it myself a number of times.) Except that the Microsoft study actually referenced its figures from other sources. When BBC journalist Simon Maybin tried to track down these other sources, he didn’t have any success. In fact, the researchers he talked to who specialized in studying memory and attention were not aware of any evidence that attention spans were getting shorter.

And what about the goldfish? “It turns out that there is no evidence that goldfish — or fish in general — have particularly short attention spans or memories, despite what popular culture suggests,” Maybin wrote for the BBC. Hundreds of scientific papers have proven that goldfish have quite good memories and learning capabilities. "That a species that's used by neuro-psychologists and scientists as a model for studying memory formation should be the very species that has this reputation — I think that's an interesting irony," stated University of Glasgow professor Felicity Huntingford, a specialist in fish behavior.

So much of what we think we know is true is not. The web gives us tools to verify and validate, to develop hypotheses and theories and then test them. We should focus less on knowing the answer and more on knowing how to get the answer.