Clearwater Times editorial by Stephanie Hagenaars

The art of critical thinking

The Internet can be an extremely useful entity, yet also an alarmingly harmful one.

It can find information for us, help us with our taxes, and allow us to speak to our friends overseas or upload and share photos from a recent trip.

But with so much information at our fingertips comes added responsibility. Namely, to sort through that information to determine what may be misleading or outright fake news. And now more than ever, with the ongoing pandemic, ramped-up Internet scams and the release of new information daily – usually on our smartphones – critical thinking skills are even more crucial in going about our everyday lives.

According to a recent Statistics Canada survey, more than 88 per cent of Canadians 15 years and over in 2018 had a smartphone. Of those, more than 45 percent admitted to checking their phone at least every 30 minutes, while over half said it was the last thing they did before going to bed. Even crazier is that 53 percent use their phone while watching TV and a quarter can’t put it down while eating dinner.

Even more alarming is that while just less than half of internet traffic in Canada originates from mobile devices, social media has reached over 95 per cent of mobile users in Canada, over half of which are Facebook users. That’s a lot of time online, especially when you consider the amount of information popping up on news feeds or while surfing the web.

There’s a saying “don’t believe everything you read.” Yet quite often, people will take what they see on Facebook and forward it on as if it were gospel.

Social media giants like Facebook and Twitter have put some measures in place to notify users that a post or story may be false or misleading (after much poking, prodding and questioning by American authority figures and the public at large). But while these additions are helpful, we shouldn’t rely on them.

Only through critical thinking can we filter this information to separate fact from fiction, or at least get a good idea of what’s right or wrong.

Critical thinking is in our everyday lives, as at its core, it’s simply a deliberate thought process. A small business owner uses critical thinking when making decisions in an effort to increase sales or reduce costs. A hockey coach will also use critical thinking during a time out when the team is down by one and they look to push the game into overtime.

It’s a skill that is used in so many menial moments of our lives but is not something we improve upon unless we actively choose to do so.

Given that we spend so much time online, are fed hundreds of stories, or snippets, per day, and are flogged with thousands of ideas, concepts, what-ifs and opinions, it behooves us to take some responsibility to distill and understand that information. How we sift through it all is by asking ourselves simple questions: “What’s happening? Why does this matter? What don’t I see? Who is saying it? What other ideas exist?”

The internet has given us so many opportunities to thrive, but in this ever-increasing age of information, we can’t afford to let our guard down.

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