Over 1.7 millions books have been published so far this year. 8,607 tweets are posted every second. And 75 hours of video were uploaded to YouTube in the 15 seconds it took you to read this paragraph. Most of those gigabytes of information will never cross our minds, but the fraction that do still overwhelm us. We have access to so much information in our pockets that it’s hard to develop our own ideas and personal values.
Thinking for ourselves isn’t a new problem, especially at Amherst. Here, good arguments and ideas pop up with as much frequency as social media notifications. When reading a book written by a preeminent thinker, it’s easiest to slide into agreement without asking ourselves if we actually agree. This happens most often when we share ideologies with the author and forget to challenge their assertions.
Too often, ideological labels, gut reactions and past prejudices help us decide what to ignore and what to believe. Now, this isn’t altogether bad; we should be suspicious about unsupported claims and examine the sources of supposed “facts.”
It’s dangerous, though, when we accept ideas based on whether or not they reinforce our worldview. The algorithms of social media play on this basic human characteristic and magnify our biases, closing off any chance of legitimately encountering the ideological “other.” The vicious cycle of self-affirmation and social media strangles unorthodox ideas and exacerbates political entrenchment.
Since our opinions, thoughts and ideas are based on the information we’re exposed to, trapping ourselves in information bubbles asphyxiates our ability to grow. It’s hard to support our own original ideas, defend them in debate and persuade others to agree.
When surrounded by other voices, it is difficult to find our own. That challenge is the crux of an academic life. How do we speak our truths? How do we preserve our intellectual integrity? And how do we set aside distractions and find what we believe?
If we said we had the answers, we’d be trivializing those questions. We can’t tell you how to overcome this problem, because the two of us struggle to think for ourselves. We succumb to information overload. We oppose certain politicians without fully examining them. And we’ve written articles formed of wholly-unoriginal ideas.
We’re attempting to do things differently. We pledge to spend time researching to discover new ways of addressing problems. In each article, we hope to highlight an issue of importance and bring up information and perspectives that you, the reader, haven’t seen.
We’ll present thought-provoking, original ideas, forcing ourselves to say what we believe instead of relying on pre-packaged thoughts. The goal, ultimately, is to think for ourselves, in hopes that it’ll be worthwhile for our readers.
But that doesn’t mean we’ll be deliberately controversial or confrontational. The goal isn’t to be contrarian or stuck in our ways. In fact, when we’re able to speak our minds, we’re better able to understand and adopt other points of view. When we articulate why we believe something, we’re forced to evaluate those reasons and reckon with their impacts.
Instead of hiding behind ideological labels and marking whatever we don’t like with the stamp of the “other,” we can begin to see the truths that inform those unfamiliar ideas. Ironically, to truly think for ourselves, we have to listen to others.
We’ve found that one way to create original ideas is to combine different perspectives. One person’s idea may be interesting, but it becomes more compelling when shaped by other people’s views. When two worldviews come into contact, they mold and shape each other, creating two new perspectives, each more engaging and dynamic than before. We disagree on substantive issues, but our tiny room can’t support violent arguments, so our column is founded on productive ideological conflict. Throughout the year, you’ll read our thoughts on topics ranging from current campus events to economics to politics. When we disagree, you’ll read our opposing perspectives in these pages.
But we don’t want the exchange of ideas to stop there. To create new narratives and ideas, the flow of information between columnists and readers should go both ways. We’d love to hear you challenge, build upon, and refocus our ideas.
At the end of each article, we’ll ask you to share your thoughts with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. There, we’ll respond to any thoughts or criticisms you have. Whether or not you agree with what we say, we hope that over the course of the year, our sometimes-esoteric musings will combine with your own diverse values and life experiences to create ideas that are creative, passionate and above all, new.