Posted by: hdemott | April 13, 2010

Critical Thinking – The Linchpin of Social Media

I’ve been reading Seth Godins’ phenomenal book Linchpin (here). I urge anybody who reads this to go out and get the book and read it. It won’t take long – and as with any of Seths books – you will come away with your head spinning with ideas.

One thing that struck me last night as I read this was his assertion that schools teach us in the completely wrong way – preparing us for a life in a factory (blue or white collar) and not preparing us to think for ourselves.

I put this theory to work at the dinner table last night – asking my wife if anything she learned in school helped her in everyday life – beyond the basics of mathematics and reading and writing. Of course, being a doctor, medical school was helpful, but in her day to day job as a mom – the hardest job in the world – there’s not much applicability.

I’ve worked on Wall Street for over 20 years – and I can tell you unequivocally that beyond basic math – there’s not much that I’ve learneds that I use daily.

Now that said, I was the recipient of a world class education (thank you mom and dad) and I did get to attend Princeton, where I learned perhaps the most important lesson of all – which is to think critically. That is to say that I learned to look at all sides of a situation – reading original source material – and coming to an informed conclusion based on facts.

This skill set is perhaps the greatest skill available to people dealing with media today – and for people in the media today.

Great blogs have dedicated readers who are active participants in the conversation – bringing differing points of view to the conversation. I would defy anyone to read Fred Wilson’s AVC (here) and not be wowed by the consistent level of commentary and the differing opinions that show up there. Wait a day and read through all of the comments – and you will probably get a pretty good sense of all sides of the debate started by the post.

This is far more educational than reading one story on Techcrunch and not following it all the way through – or looking for another opinion

Similarly, because of my 1 hour train ride every morning, I read 4 newspapers front to back (NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and The New York Post). Reading the Times gets me one point of view (from the left), and the  Journal Balances it out (clearly from the right). The Financial Times gets you the international slant on the story and the NY Post provides a break around Harlem 125th Street station (although I must say their business section does an exceptional job covering the media and real estate world). Throw in The Economist once a week and you have a pretty balanced view of events and issues. What you do from there is up to you – but if you get all your news from Glen Beck or Kieth Olberman, you are likely to have a fairly skewed view of the world.

With the explosion of social media and information sources it is more important than ever to not only teach, but practice the art of critical thinking. I hope my kids get this in school – but seeing how I feel, I’m sure I will get it to them as soon as I can.

The internet gives us the opportunity to be more informed and to get more information than at any other time in history. To waste this opportunity to think critically about the issues of today would be a terrible shame.

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