17 Reasons Lists Are Making You Dumber

Opinion by Aaron Sekhri
Jan. 31, 2014, 11:20 a.m.

You live in a silo.

The internet has conferred upon us agency we never dreamed we could have. We make choices about our media consumption habits, choices that were, for the most part, unavailable to our parents.

They were confined to what newspaper they bought, and the information that was neatly packed into its pages, whereas we can idly shift from tab to tab, going wherever our momentary attention span takes us. In the media universe, we are the pilots of our vessel, zipping from planet to planet.

In an ideal world this would mean each individual media consumer becomes more intelligent, drawing from a wider variety of media, a larger array of outlets and becoming a better, more informed citizen, with a better understanding of what he or she believes in, and why.

It would mean people would come to their personal viewpoints after having them challenged by contrary arguments, diametrically opposed points of view, which they could do as easily as they could type in search terms on Google.

And yet, this revolution in media has ushered in an era where the exact opposite attitude prevails. People now seek media that does nothing but confirm their own visceral, intuitive beliefs. Confirmation bias is rife, and one need not venture further than TV news to observe this phenomenon in full, repugnant swing.

Instead of using the incredible potential of modern technologies that allow unfettered access to content of every orientation, we have closed ourselves into a corner, where every stated opinion merely acts as a vain mechanism for us to nod along, unthinkingly, reveling in the illusory correctness of our own beliefs.

We consider the only point of view that is valid for us, and in doing so lose out on any critical evaluation of our beliefs. Our intellect atrophies, and what constitutes an argument these days is merely a repetition of the points read on some website which merely articulates our views better than we can. The Internet also allows us to become lazier, too, with list-laden articles designed to manipulate our behavioral biases into spending hours on click-bait sites.

There is an obvious, glaring remedy here, and it’s to actively, emphatically and voraciously consume news, opinion journalism, essays and the like, of all creeds and of all philosophical underpinnings. Do not settle for what you agree with; purposefully seek out that which confuses you, annoys you, bothers you, unsettles you, even, because then you begin to grasp the significance and values of your own beliefs.

Look for difficult articles, those that require an investment of time and emotion. Embrace long-form and leave the lists for diversion. Forget slideshows and start thinking and engaging the media. As smart young people at this tremendous institution, it would be a disservice to the education we are receiving not to do just this.

So seek out contrarianism, a diversity of opinion. Find a news source that particularly enrages you, and consider that emotion, and where it comes from, and what it means. Question your reactions, hold up the author’s argument to your own, and then, only after a process that is both exploratory and rigorous, conclude on an opinion that you’ve not just mimicked, but one that you have earned.


As the managing editor of opinions since July of last year, I’ve enjoyed myself tremendously bringing together a sharp group of writers to contribute in the best way possible to the campus conversation. And whether they have represented the Left, the Right, the Up or the Down, their voices have been welcomed and encouraged in this medium, as it should be.

I want to thank all those individuals that have made this space to engaging, so polemical and so thought provoking since they began writing. Whatever failings the section may have had, you cannot argue that it was shallow, unambitious or that it resided in its own, self-important silo. I also want to thank all of the contributors that added diversity and a certain excitement to the section, and without whom this project would have been severely limited.


On a final note, never be afraid to write or to post a submission to The Daily whenever you feel you can add to the conversation. Writing is a beautiful thing, and the taut, lean medium of print journalism can compel clarity you never thought you could manage. We forget how important writing is, and that it’s an ideal medium to distill and illuminate your thoughts, simply by virtue of its limitations. Putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) forces a lucidity that is relevant to so many of the thinking and decision processes that govern life.

It can be an intimidating medium, because your words must speak for themselves, with no room for you to supplement or add to your argument ex post facto. Your words are bare, and even under layers of equivocation and jargon, you are, in a way, exposed. And that’s why writing, especially in this medium, with its constraints, can be so agonizing and yet so rewarding.

No side has a monopoly on the truth. Bias is choice, so no perspective is without its biases. Hubris is a dangerous thing, and it is being encouraged by our sloppy consumption of the media. And this behavior is applicable to Stanford and beyond. The “techies” don’t always have it right, and the “fuzzies” don’t either. The Left won’t solve the world’s problems on its own, just as the Right won’t do the same. And this acceptance of moderation, of nuance, becomes all the more easy when you take a more broad-minded and flexible approach to the media.

So write more, read more, read different and don’t take the (click-)bait. Step outside of the silo. It’ll make a world of difference.

Aaron Sekhri is the Managing Editor of Opinions at The Stanford Daily for Volume 244. Contact him at [email protected]

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