Joe Peacock: 'It's 2012! Ignorance is inexcusable!'
January 20th, 2012
04:41 PM ET

Joe Peacock: 'It's 2012! Ignorance is inexcusable!'

Editor's note: Fans of "Akira" probably know Joe Peacock as the owner and curator of the Art of Akira Exhibit, which tours fan conventions around the world. He is also the Creative Director/Crayon Monkey for FARK.com, a blogger and author.

There were many effects and stories to come out of Wednesday’s huge internet blackout in protest of SOPA/PIPA. But I was struck, specifically, by  how stupid people can be, and how it has polluted our Internet. It made me realize that as geeks, we have a responsibility to help clean up the mess.

If you missed it, this was spectacularly illustrated by a dedicated Twitter feed collecting and retweeting peoples' utterly ridiculous reaction to having no Wikipedia for a day. There were even people who thought Obama banned Wikipedia.

If you’re like me, this sort of thing fills you with outrage. “It's 2012!” you’re yelling. “Ignorance is inexcusable!”

And you’re right.

As Seth Godin points out, not knowing how to do something is the most easily solved problem any of us has these days. The entire sum of human knowledge is available on a 4-inch device that fits in your pocket. If you own a computer, everything you could ever want to know is one click away.

And that’s why we as geeks get aggravated with people taking the time to leave Wikipedia, fire up Twitter, and proceed to demand to know why Wikipedia was down, when Wikipedia put a link directly on the front page explaining why.

“Why didn’t they just click?!?” we ask ourselves. If someone is too lazy to just click that link right in front of you and figure it out, perhaps they don’t deserve to know. Geeks see stupidity as a problem easily solved by initiative: Just stop being lazy and you’ll stop being stupid.

I can’t stand not knowing things. I care very much about the things I love, and have a need - not just desire, but need - to know everything I can about them. Even topics I don’t necessarily care about get a quick glance from me. I feel it’s important that I at least read enough about the news to not be ignorant about it. And you’re probably the same way. Its our instinct as geeks.

But something occurred to me yesterday that changed my perspective on the situation. I was reminded of the Internet-wide Blue Ribbon Campaign For Free Speech in 1996, launched immediately after the Communications Decency Act was passed that February. It also featured a day of blacked out websites in protest of government censorship of the internet.

There's a very notable difference between the two protests: Back then, the internet was much smaller - less than 1/100th the size it is now, both in terms of users and active servers. The people who were on the internet back then weren't there to nonchalantly post pictures of their cats to Facebook.

Back then, if you wanted to post pictures of your cat, you not only had to build your own dedicated website for it, you also had to wait roughly 2-3 minutes per picture to upload them, as the only way to get them was scanning physical pictures into inefficiently compressed JPGs of 50-100kB and uploading them over a 28.8K modem, which wouldn’t actually upload at 2.8kB. It was usually less than 1kB upload then - and that’s only if you were able to afford the best modem of the day.

The people using the internet in 1996 were mostly geeks, with 57.8% of users having either education-based or computer-based occupations.

While not all of them were “computer geeks” per se, they shared a common trait: They were obsessive about what they loved and cared enough about it to learn how to use a computer, learn how to connect to the Internet via a phone line and modem, learn how to post information to news groups. They were passionate, intelligent and motivated. I know, because I was there.

Today? Not so much. The stream has been polluted by, well, everyone who isn't us. And the result, while shamefully entertaining, is a feeling that the world has gotten stupider.

It probably hasn't. We're just more aware of it now, because everyone has a channel to broadcast their minds with very little barrier to entry.

A geek’s natural reaction to this is to sigh, shake our head and make references to the film “Idiocracy,” (Which posits a world that has become populated almost exclusively by stupid people because all of the smart people stopped breeding. It’s an uncannily fitting metaphor.)

But there's a flip side to this coin. The reaction to SOPA/PIPA should make geeks responsible for educating our less enthusiastic peers.

Geeks can point other people to the resources that teach them what it is they don't know, (even if you have to sigh when you do it.) Geeks could even write and originate the information others need in order to learn about how the internet really works. The fantastic Khan Academy video explaining the SOPA and PIPA bills is a great example - rather than taking the opportunity to create a video lampooning how stupid people can be when they're not geeky, they break everything down to extremely easy-to-understand concepts and then illustrate them.

In 2012, you can become a part of the solution of the global stupidity epidemic. You can be a better geek. Sure, it's inherent in our culture to snark - it keeps the fakers and posers at bay. Yes, some people absolutely deserve to be derided - when they are willfully ignorant and won't listen to your warnings about the consequences; they deserve to learn what it's like to touch the hot stove.

But for those that can and might listen, it's your responsibility as a geek and a knowledge-owner to spread that information and help them. They don't have to be a member of our club to understand why it exists or the work we do. And if they don't understand, at least they'll know where they can find some information.

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Filed under: Brainiac
soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. Laughing babies videos

    You could definitely see your enthusiasm in the paintings you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to say how they believe. At all times go after your heart.

    April 4, 2012 at 9:23 am |
  2. Mike Hunt

    Why is the present population of adult Americans so ignorant and stupid?
    One answer: GENERATION X!

    March 20, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  3. Emory

    This is the best article I've read in awhile. So true, which is what makes it hilarious! God, why are people so stupid, other than for entertainment. I'm no genius but I know why Wikipedia was down.

    January 24, 2012 at 3:03 am |
  4. bruce

    The whole page is filled with stupid(column and comments).

    January 23, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
  5. Kindred Spirit

    You had me at "Idiocracy." Great article, glad I am not the only one with these laments.

    January 23, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  6. Dee

    Uh ... what a "stupid" article, to echo the words of its author. There is more to life than the internet. Too many people today think life consists of electronic devices – i-phones, i-pads, laptops, blah blah blah. Who cares???? Try living "unconnected" to the web for a few days. Try meeting your friends for coffee in person and actually having a live conversation, not texting or "meeting" in a chatroom. Try reading a book!!! (And no, not a Kindle – a real book made out of paper.) This author is a typical self-righteous "geek", deluding himself into believing he is smarter than everyone else out there, when in fact, truly smart people recognize that others have a variety of talents, and we can often learn from others. As for SOPA and PIPA – stop viewing and downloading materials that infringe copyrights – it's stealing. The websites that stream stolen content need to be shut down until they stop stealing. Anyone have another way of dealing with this? Theft is theft.

    January 23, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Michael Hunt Esq.

      Congrats, you're one of the people this article is talking about.
      Ignorance is inexcusable.

      January 23, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • kayads77

      FYI, the thing you dowload to your Kindle (or iPad or other e-reader) ARE books. They have the same content as the paper-and-ink version in your library. I'd suggest educating yourself about technology instead of putting it – and the people who use it – down.

      January 23, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
      • kayads77

        things*

        January 23, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • mike

      Did you not read the article?

      January 23, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • stuck in 1999

      is this what they call "trolling"?

      January 25, 2012 at 2:00 am |
  7. basketcase

    This is precisely why the website lmgtfy(dot)com was created.

    January 23, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  8. tom clements

    Ignorance...stupidity....Whenever anyone mentions family values or the nuclear family some get really hostile. However, when you consider that in the next 10 years there will be too many baby boomers-for every assisted facility, nursing home, elder care facility- to care for in the US, we are on the brink of our first true humanitarian crisis. How stupid and ignorant is it to scoff at the fact that if you don not have a strong family structure you might be in serious trouble. Politicians know that social security and medicaid is unsubstainable. How are so many so ignorant to the importance of the nuclear family.

    January 23, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  9. Sara

    I got my computer when I was in eighth grade, in 1995. That Packard Bell was determined to hold onto its 14.4k modem, no hardware upgrades would work.

    I have a masters in information science, which (in my school's definition – I don't think any educational program has such a wide definition as "information science" – means studying how people use information, how it's classified, how it can best be displayed) means I was forced to think about these things for a couple years. It just boggles the mind. Incredibly intelligent people work every day to make the common tasks of the web more user-friendly, and so few people think to use them. It's not that the users don't know *how*, they just don't think about it. I Google more than anyone I know, because I'm a very curious person. If something I don't know comes up in conversation, I don't sit there and ponder what it could mean – I look it up!

    Casual users don't seem to realize that you can find almost anything on the web if you know how to look. I'm not a genius, I just know how to Google efficiently. https://www.xkcd.com/627/

    Also, Idiocracy references are about as played-out as disclaimers about why you're citing Wikipedia in conversation. "I checked Wikipedia – I mean, I know it's not a REAL encyclopedia, but, you know – and..." Oh for the love of...

    January 23, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  10. ANON

    Best article ever!!!

    January 23, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  11. Grumpster

    Educators these days want to teach you a skill for a job. They don't seem to care if you can think. The GOP has been fanatically disassembling the educational system at every opportunity for decades. They want back in power so they can return to medieval thinking by taking away science and replacing it with Creationism and religion. They want people so dumb that they don't realize when they are being fleeced, when they are being ripped off, and so that the dumb people will thank them for it too.

    January 23, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  12. NOT MY CHAIR

    "the people who were on the internet back then weren't there to nonchalantly post pictures of their cats to Facebook."
    doesn't he mean Reddit but i dont have a facebook to reference so i could be ignorant on this...

    January 23, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  13. Paul

    This is one of the best and most important articles on CNN I have ever read. There is truly no excuse for ignorance, and the people who still cling to it either do so because they like being stupid or they just can't handle knowing the truth.

    January 23, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  14. mkjp

    While I think it is pretty horrendous that all these people couldn't simply click on a link to get the explanation they apparently desired, it is even worse that these people all flock to Wikipedia as they do simply to complete basic homework assignments. I read the collection of tweets from so many students lambasting whatever they could come up with for their dear, precious wiki being down the day they had to write their report that was due the following day. Or that they have homework, how dare the all powerful wiki be down??? This points to an egregious shortcoming in today's educational system. Granted wikipedia did not exist when I was in primary and secondary school, but it was easy enough to either google a subject to get some information or, *gasp* GO TO A LIBRARY. come on people, let's start educating our kids about how to educate themselves properly!

    January 23, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  15. frank payton

    you can fix ignorance, you can fix laziness, but you just can't fix stupid. i agree, people are too lazy, or too scared too do anything anymore. they just don't care.

    January 23, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  16. B. Roberts

    You can lead a horse to water....

    January 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Kevin Mitnick

      ... and the horses that don't drink are made into glue.

      January 23, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
      • Alessio

        I don't quite know what to make of it yet. @Biz added an addendum to it syniag more changes are coming that will make things better, maybe this is just the first of it. Maybe they're adding threaded @replies or something. I don't know. I can't quite get my head around what the fuss is yet but I'm sure the fuss is justified I'm just not quite understanding how I'm affected yet.

        November 14, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Ganesh

      cmc033098 on September 19, 2011 Giving away this laptop bcaeuse i just got a macbook pro so theres no need for me to have it all you have to do is comment saying GATEWAY FAVORITE LIKE SUBSCRIBE THANKS FOR WATCHING! Category Film Animation

      March 5, 2012 at 4:48 am |
  17. thelgear

    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."
    – Isaac Asimov, column in Newsweek (21 January 1980)

    January 23, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • JJ

      II fear that's a pretty accurate summary, thelgear. I can't think of any other culture that actually celebrates ignorance as a virtue as much as ours seems to.

      January 23, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  18. Justin

    Your quote, "Just stop being lazy, and you'll stop being stupid", should be a tee shirt and banners across every knowledge engine out there. Thanks for articulating the exasperation us geeks experience every time some nitwit opens their mouth to expound on something they know next to nothing about.

    January 23, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Scott Bernard

      Agreed! It's an awesome quote! I don't mind people who are ignorant. I don't think being stupid or dumb makes one a bad person. What I can't abide are people who are too lazy to educate themselves and who are willfully stupid. It's not that hard to learn facts.

      January 23, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  19. Binky42

    Some people enjoy being ignorant.

    January 23, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  20. Josef Bleaux

    It's about common sense. If Wikipedia is down, you read the stated reason on the website. End of story. It doesn't take any kind of education, it just takes having more than 3 working brain cells and using them.

    January 23, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • The Newt

      3 ? I am down to 2 brain cells, and they are competing for each other's space

      January 23, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
      • the cells down there

        Newtie, get larger pants and downsize the noodle. Then you'll have more room for those brain cells supplying their adjacent head.

        January 23, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  21. Josef Bleaux

    It's not ignorance. It's stupidity. And it's a very scary thing.

    January 23, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  22. The Devil's Advocate

    One inherent issue with information on the internet:

    No matter how incorrect or insane your ideas/thoughts are, you'll be able to find somewhere on the internet that says you are correct.

    January 23, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • Jeff Williams

      """you'll be able to find somewhere on the internet that says you are correct."""

      And no matter how crazy you are or how perverted your perversion, you will find company.

      January 23, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  23. DSBsky

    I agree, I'm pretty tired of dumb people too..lol.. But they are not going to stop existing, turst me.. I mean look at all the people who actually support a man who was fined for ethics in congress "which has never happened before" Gingrich lol.. Santorum sleeps with dead babies for days in his house and intoduces them to his kids.. Romney? lmfao Romney are you kidding? Guy goes on whichever side pays the bills. But people watch the news or watch nothing at all. the heard a little talk in the street from some moron and they jump on the band wagon. EDUCATE YOURSELVES PEOPLE.. FFS IT'S YOUR LIFE TOO.. GET IT?

    January 23, 2012 at 9:51 am |
  24. Jeff Williams

    I am an ancient Geek. Internet in the 80s (14.4 modems, 10MB hard drives, VGA display, yay!), played star trek over modem (and still have the freakin' manual) with an IBM mainframe in the mid 70s. I have earned my status.

    The ancient geek shall speak:
    Yes, we have an obligation to educate others living in our Idiocracy, but I fear we are doomed. People with knowledge are scorned. I hear snide references to "mainstream science", as if mainstream science is a bad thing and too narrow-minded to consider the "reality" of ancient astronauts or the "fact" that the NWO is spraying us daily with chemtrails.

    The Internet, as wonderful as it is, spews exponentially more misinformation, misguided opinion, and willful lies than it does knowledge and wisdom. And I think it's a losing battle, although I have made a small difference – I convinced an acquaintance to stop posting on FB about chemtrails by sending him old photos of B-17 bombers streaking massive contrails over Europe (he thought it was a recent phenomenon).

    January 23, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • TD2012

      As a slightly-less-ancient-geek, I wholeheartedly agree. That's the major problem with the author's argument: answers to any question may indeed be found on the Internet, but they won't necessarily be the *correct* answers. A quick Google search will give you detailed, science-sounding support for astrology, pseudo-evidence that HIV doesn't cause AIDS, long treatises denying the Holocaust happened, mathematical arguments that the earth is flat, on and on. Even in the Internet age - and perhaps more so - distinguishing truth from delusion requires a thorough, well-rounded education, including awareness of critical thinking principles. Unfortunately, that's increasingly rare in our idiocracy.

      January 23, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
      • Jeff Williams

        """distinguishing truth from delusion requires a thorough, well-rounded education, including awareness of critical thinking principles"""

        VERY true.

        January 23, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
      • Galih

        can you get your dog's ears pierccan you get your dog's ears pidccedeeran you get your dog's ears piercedcan you get your dog's ears piercedcan you get your dog's ears piercedcan you get your dog's ears piercedcan yocan you get your dog's ears piercedu get your dog's ears piercedcan you get your dog's earscan you get your dog's ears pierced piercedcan you get your dog'scan you get your dog's ears pierced ecan you get your dog's ears piercedars piercedcan you get

        May 27, 2012 at 4:13 am |
    • TI99 Programmer

      Dude, chemtrails ? You think the space shuttle leaves them also on the way to the orbit? Those are gases from exhaust, nothing more.

      Anyway, "You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building" ....

      January 23, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
      • Jeff Williams

        """You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building"""

        Wow, that's a blast from the past. I never played it, though.

        January 23, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  25. Greg N.

    I enjoyed your story, but the unrelenting desire to be noticed and obtain the spotlight is a factor you didn't elaborate enough on. You touched on the subject while mentioning people will go onto the internet to post a picture of their cat, but honestly I bet a handful of people who tweeted about their concerns of Wikipedia being down not only saw the link but also clicked it. They then educated themselves and suddenly their itch to get some attention takes over – "Oh hey, if I play ignorant I can post about this!" – and voila, you have feigned ignorance. Each day I see people who I know to be smart acting absolutely retarded to attempt fitting in or being noticed. Honestly, the drive to be noticed is nothing new – but the way people go about this today is shallow and purposeless. It stunts growth.

    January 23, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • Charlie

      Greg, I think you are dead on here. If you 'play' ignorant you can garner attention, and even if that attention is people calling you ignorant, well at least they're paying attention to you, right? News and media do it all the time to build outrage and get attention and hence viewers and increased revenue. The more outrageous and ignorant they sound the more money they can make.

      In fact we could almost make the argument that this article itself is just more of the same. He claims it's ignorance that's driving people to make these comments, and sounds outraged by their lack of desire to know the truth, but none of us really believe it's ignorance. Rather it's fairly obvious that it is really a need to be paid attention to, and so in the end he's actually playing into the whole thing by being somewhat ignorant himself.

      January 23, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • slupdawg

      I think you make a great point. I also believe it explains the troll phenomenon, as many of these people are sharper than they would appear to be. Every now and then they let down their guard, and show a glimmer of intelligence. They just love the attention, is all. I think also, a lot of it is a loss of inhibition after they ingest alcohol or something else, and it becomes the equivalent of drunk dialing. In a world where massive information and communication is at your fingertips, it's still a solitary existence in cyberspace unless, of course, you can garner some human interaction, and that requires making some remarkable statements, if you really want immediate results.

      January 23, 2012 at 11:18 am |
      • Remarkably Intelligent Troll

        I do believe you are correct. Laughing at the victims of Poe's Law is far more enjoyable than hearing about where a FB friend ate last night. It would be great to bash those FB friends, but courtesy doesn't allow it.

        January 23, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • slj401

      Exactly, while it's tempting to reply to ignorant comments you see in so many articles (especially those on sensitive topics) I find it's best just to ignore them or report them so they're deleted. It boils down to not just ignorance, but the need for attention, it's very weird and sad.

      January 23, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • Sara

      Perhaps (less maliciously) the user saw the link, freaked out for a moment, clicked, learned, and decided to make a self-deprecating post about their own ignorance. (Why we persist in advertising our own ignorance is beyond me, but that's a discussion for another day.)

      January 23, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  26. Michael McMillan

    While I sympathize with Joe's sentiments, I can not help but believe we are in this state because we asked for it. In fact, we educate for it. Education does not all take place in school, it also takes place in the home, from social media, and mass media. Most times, that education is full of false facts and poor conclusions.

    Almost from the cradle we learn from the "idiot box". I am not talking about "Ancient Aliens" or "Ghost Hunters" but rather from the short films known as commercials. We learn that fiber makes a cold breakfast cereal healthy no matter how many calories from fat it has. Any drink with added vitamins and two cups of sugar is touted as good for you. Is it any wonder we have educated ourselves into an obesity epidemic?

    We, as good internet citizens, need to cry foul. When Congress steps on our basic freedoms, in the name of both commerce and security, we need to stand up for ourselves. When people and businesses attempt to exploit the ignorance of others by proffering false facts.

    January 20, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • mkjp

      and don't forget: high fructose corn syrup, in moderation, is perfectly healthy.

      January 23, 2012 at 1:33 pm |