Tech-Tonic Shift: From Informed Decision-Making To Information Overload

The recent sad and upsetting events around racial discrimination and the subsequent protests have dominated the world stage, even upstaging the pandemic. People’s frustrations have grown to the point that they now want to remove visible reminders of the very symbols of imperialism and racism, like statues of people associated with them.

I came across the news about Oxford governors agreeing to work towards removing the statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes, which remains at Oxford’s Oriel College. While I do not want to get into a discussion about whether it is right or wrong, what got me interested was the familiarity of the name. The question answered itself when the article mentioned his famous Rhodes scholarship for Oxford.

Having grown up in an academic environment, I had heard about it; but for me and the multitude of people, he was just a name. I had no idea of who he was or what he represented, as was the case for a lot of other scholarships named after people. I immediately Googled a few others like Fulbright to understand why the scholarships had been instituted.

I wondered why I had never looked it up before? I realized the answer was literally staring at me in the face, my phone. A wealth of knowledge is readily available now, enabled by the connected world of the internet on our laptops and smartphones, which we did not have access to before.

Trying to find out about him would have meant asking someone, who may or may not have known about him or a trip to the massive library to look through the pages of Encyclopedia Britannica, my first point of call for research, as a young person. Whilst Google existed, my access to the internet was restrictive and when available very slow. By the time that changed my interest had faded, confined to a distant memory, till now.

The super-fast connectivity and availability of information, literally at our fingertips, is gradually changing our perception and ultimately decisions, regarding our way of life.

Everyone may not be as adept at technology as the latest Generation Alpha, who were born after iPads and iPhones, or even the Gen Z, who have lived their entire life in a connected world with smartphones as their favourite mode of communication, however they are definitely adapting to it fast and well.

Today, out of habit, every time a question pops up in our mind we ask a search engine for the answer, so much so that “Googling” has become a verb. The search may be as mundane as the meaning of a word, location or directions for travel or even shop opening times to important background research on a company we wish to join. Sometimes this goes to an extreme where we try to self-diagnose medical conditions without seeking doctors’ advice.

A person not found on Facebook/ Twitter/ Instagram is considered a ghost. We are moving towards a stage where a company that has no web presence like an entry in wiki pages or a LinkedIn profile is easily dismissed.

Information now drives consumer behaviour, and companies in turn. People are conscious of what lies behind the brand too. They want to know if the clothes they buy or food they eat are ethically and sustainably produced. Hiding is no longer an option and is considered a sign of guilt. In fact, some companies want to control the narrative
in the media and market, by providing information freely. The consumer stands in front of the item, searches up the information and then decides to buy or not, all under 60 seconds.

So in addition to the availability of information, reach and reaction times are a matter of hours instead of days now. One tweet by Elon Musk about the share price of Tesla being too high, wiped 14 billion USD from Tesla’s value, overnight.

Of course, information is always welcome but sometimes debatable. I look up maps and chart optimal travel paths for the day, before I visit a new city. I even view the stations or landmarks beforehand on Google street view, so as not to get lost or depend on strangers to guide me. This is all in addition to having Google maps guiding me
dynamically, especially if I am travelling alone, so I can feel secure. However, you could argue that I lose an opportunity to speak and see the place through the eyes of a local or reduce the impact of seeing something for the first time.

Everyone has access to information and hence the decision is also ours to make. I may go with a local guide or random exploring, if I have company or feel safe. A person may buy non-ethical clothing because they love it or even because it’s the only thing they can afford. What’s certain is that going forward people will do a lot more
research and then decide, rather than taking things for granted.

Meanwhile, will the Rhodes scholarship be retained, although I have not read anything to the contrary? It will be even more interesting to see if this will affect the uptake from future students, now that information of his colonial past has been laid bare.

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