The Internet is About More Than Just Naked People

One of the great accomplishments of the Internet is that it has democratized creativity and learning. Avenues of expression that were once closed to the average person because of expense, expertise, and equipment are now open to anyone with a laptop and a wifi connection.

Musicians can produce albums and upload them to their favorite music websites to share with their audience. Music fans can discover new bands, buy new music, and live stream concerts from anywhere.

Citizen journalists can launch a blog and a podcast to share news and investigative reporting. Writers can publish short stories and novels without the publishing houses determining who's "worthy." And they can all earn money through donations and sales.

Academics no longer have to fight to submit their work to academic journals; they can contribute knowledge to the world with the click of a mouse. People can get a free education with websites like EdX,, and FutureLearn.

Thanks to the Internet, you literally have access to all of the world's knowledge. With a few mouse clicks, you can speak to someone in Senegal, hear music from Buenos Aires, take a class in Oxford, and read a newspaper from Melbourne.

Also, you can see pictures of naked people.

Of course, the Internet being what it is now, you can also find crackpot theories, religious cults, scams, and illegal merchandise.

The Internet is what you make of it. You can create a utopia of ideas shared with enthusiastic intellectuals, or you can create a cesspool of slime and vitriol, filled with racist crap that your drunk uncle has spent the last two years studying up on since Thanksgiving 2019.

And of course, you can see pictures of naked people.

While the Internet was intended to be a veritable fountain of ideas, it has also caused an explosion of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is what's known in psychology circles as "illusory superiority," which is fancy psychologist talk for "the incorrect belief that you think you're smarter than you are."

Or, as I like to call it, the King of Stupid Mountain.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect means that you cannot see the level of your own (in)competence.

That is, you don't know what you don't know, but you think you do know.

We've all known people who suffer from it. The teenager who thinks they know more than their parents. The new manager who has big ideas on how to run the entire company. Or the Facebook friend who read one article and watched a sketchy YouTube video and believes they know more about a subject than the PhDs who have devoted their entire career to it.

I was reminded of the Dunning-Kruger Effect when I heard about a recent survey commissioned by the learning platform, FutureLearn.

They found that the average American spends eight minutes per day in an "Internet wormhole," searching for answers on various topics. They lose track of time and don't realize time has flown by.

I remember once researching cloud-computing for a blog post and found myself reading about English archers' finger grip during the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

According to the survey, people love to look for topics like entertainment news, current events, and historical people and events. In fact, 80 percent of the 2,000 respondents said the ease and availability of the Internet compelled them to look up new and random information.

Personally, I like watching YouTube videos on esoteric rock and roll history, restoration videos of old machinery, and the occasional ZeFrank nature documentary. (Seriously, if you want to laugh at nature safely from your home, watch ZeFrank's YouTube videos.)

Unsurprisingly, given the last four years on my Facebook feed, the survey also found that 44 percent of the respondents were so confident in their knowledge that they consider themselves "unofficial experts" on certain topics.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect strikes again!

Calling yourself an expert, no matter how unofficial you may be, is a prime example of thinking you're smarter than you really are.

The survey further found that 42 percent of all respondents will debate historical events, and 41 percent will discuss politics and economics. Meanwhile, 37 percent have debated the spelling of a word, and 34 percent have argued about which actor appeared in a movie.

Conversely, I wish many people would debate the spelling of a word or at least ask questions about it. I also wish hadn't included "supposably" in its cohort of new words either, but they don't ask me about those kinds of things.

And if Dunning-Kruger was a university, they could make a lot of money because 39 percent of people thought they could make a career out of their informal Internet education.

A FutureLearn spokesperson said in a statement, "This demonstrates that people never stop learning — we just don't realize how much unstructured learning we do as part of our average day."

The more important lesson is that a lot of people seriously underestimate what it takes to become an expert in a given field.

I love that people want to learn. And I love that people are curious about things and they're using the Internet to access new knowledge.

I worry that we're creating an overabundance of so-called experts who will only clog up my Facebook feed with their "expert" opinions after watching a sketchy YouTube video and reading conspiracy theories on the Dark Web.

Maybe those experts should just stick to the pictures of the naked people.

Photo credit: jstarj (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

My new humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, is finished and available on Amazon. You can get the Kindle version here or the paperback version here.