Information – It’s Not All That

The abundance of available information at our fingertips, simply a Google Search away, is changing the way we do things.  It changes the way we spend our time, the way we learn, the way we read, and the way we think.  Sherry Turkle, in Alone Together, states that because of this, the quality of information is suffering.  People get quick email answers, quick Google Search answers, quick trivia, and don’t take the time to write or read extended written works or books.

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Because information is abundant and fast, because anyone with a smartphone can upload video and details about an event taking place, journalists have new competition.  Turkle says that people are losing their respect for a long, in depth answers.  More than that, people lose their patience for quality information. I recently was drawn to a news article by a headline.  An event had taken place, and I wanted more information, so I clicked on the article and was taken to an online news website.  The article was poorly written, disjointed, and riddled with misspellings, grammatical errors, and sentence fragments.  It was literally painful to read and the event I was reading about took a backseat to my horror at the “news” article.  How could I trust the details if there was no effort put into the publishing of this article.  A simple read-through could have fixed a multitude of errors.  I commented on the article, expressing my disappointment that the author couldn’t proof read his own work before publishing his article.  I pointed out that the errors in the article distracted me from the content and I would not return to this particular website for news anymore.  The author replied to my comment.  He defended his article and said that he was on the scene when he posted it.  He wrote the article on a tablet, which made typing difficult.  He didn’t take time to proofread because someone else may have uploaded the article first.  He prides himself on being first to get the news out. 

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That incident was my first revelation that the quality of information was at stake because of the demand for instant knowledge.  I was reminded of this as I read Howard Rheingold’s response in Net Smart to Nicholas Carr’s assertion that we rely so heavily on internet searches, that we no longer have the capacity to “know.” It’s true.  I find myself less inclined to memorize information since I can pull it up in an instant.  Today, I was packing up books that I had had for years; books that I saved in case I ever needed to know about the topics.  As I was packing them to donate, I thought about what would happen if the internet went down for any amount of time.  The books about math, electricity, art, history, etc. are all waiting until I need to look something up, except I haven’t touched them in years.  We are very dependent on the internet for our knowledge.  On one hand, the internet can go with us everywhere.  Therefore, we have knowledge whenever and wherever we need it.  Frighteningly, we’re dependent on the internet for far more than information.  What if something happens that takes down the internet for a significant amount of time.  We won’t know anything.  Carr is right in this point – the internet is making us stupid.

In addition to poor quality information, we have to contend with inaccurate information and purposefully deceiving information.  Many colleges and universities do not recognize Wikipedia as a legitimate source because of the high risk of faulty information. It used to have an open policy which means that any person, even if they did not have a Wikipedia account, could edit, add, or change information, making that information unreliable.  They have changed that policy, however, limiting and approving edits (Wikipedia Editing Policy). Therefore, since we, as readers and users, have to be able to identify when we are getting solid, or destructive information, we can’t check our brains at the door. Memorizing and “knowing” might not be as prevalent as in the past, but using reason, verifying facts, cross referencing are all becoming new skills. Perhaps the internet is teaching us to develop out critical thinking skills. 


References

Rheingold, Howard. (2012). Net Smart. The MIT Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Turkle, Sherry. (2011).  Alone Together. Basic Books. New York, NY.

Posted on October 23, 2016, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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