The Fridge is Full and There is Nothing to Eat!

I can go to the store and buy $300 worth of groceries, but when I look at the fridge after doing chores all day the last thing I want is to figure out what to make for dinner. There are just too many choices. This same phenomenon seems to happen with any other bountiful option of choices, whether it’s Netflix, or Spotify, it feels like I have even less options than when I had a collection of entertainment that could fit on half a bookshelf. With the bountiful amount of content and information available online, how are we getting anything done?

Metadata

Rheingold reminds us that this is not the first time an overabundance of information was made available to us. Rheingold reiterates that the printing press influenced scholars to “sharpen disciplines” and “define genres” to handle “the information overload of the 16th century” (p. 54). Genres and disciplines in this case are just metadata to help sift through the overload of data. And we are handling the internet in much of the same way. We use tagging online to help categorize and organize knowledge. The difference is that tagging is done by a large population of the internet rather than a few scholars.

The online entertainment businesses help consumers figure out what they want using categorization as well as recommendations. Anderson notes that recommendations for related content helped fuel book sales for content that may not have been previously considered (p. 2). Online entertainment has drastically helped increase the supply in business by the very nature of the delivery platform. Companies no longer have to worry about having enough popular content on their shelves since their shelves are just disk space and network constraints. Anderson also notes that the profitability of niche content is now more evident than ever. This means markets for niche content are much less risky than when we were limited to time slots on TV and in movie theaters.  But again, the overabundance of content is hard to sift through as a consumer. Meta-services like CanIStream.It have come around just to help people try to find if they are already paying for the service that hosts content they want to watch. Additionally, services like Netflix and Amazon both have recommended content and user generated ratings for every movie or episode that you can view to get a feeling for the level of quality.

Quality

The internet has given humans a greater voice on the internet, whether it is Yelp, online reviews, or online content from “amateurs.” And this is great, because we can potentially find better representations of public opinions.  The Cluetrain Manifesto highlights the new voice that people have been handed now that the internet can help us stand up to big corporations.

Unfortunately, this voice also leads to a large amount of bad content from uneducated and ill-willed people. This creates the need to have a level of skepticism when trying to find good information sources. Rheingold’s chapter on Crap Detection looks at some heuristics for finding trustworthy information. Services that help debunk bad information or review bad services can help us navigate these problems, but sometimes even that is not enough.  The level of internet security for a lot of this online content is not upheld to the same PCI compliance standards as banking, and we’ve seen how well that has gone. But that’s not to say we should no longer use it. Any channel of communication, whether it is the internet, phones, letters, books, or person-to-person communication, can be exploited. As such we should remain skeptical, critical, and keep up with where we get our information from, and where we put it.

This brings up the desire for content filtering and governance for these very reasons. Rheingold brings up Socrates’ skepticism of the written word, highlighting how without scholars to guide knowledge exchange there can be dangerous consequences (pp. 60-61). There appears to be an on-going trend throughout history to put governances and restrictions on knowledge. I fear that this option will set us back and make the internet unusable. Like I said before, everything can be exploited.

Conclusion

With more information than ever before, we are finding ways to manage and organize information into smaller amounts of information until it is exactly what we need. We are even creating services to help discover which services we should use.  With all the dangers that the amount of information being generated can impose, we must be careful about governances and restrictions, there is a fine line in protecting people’s minds and censorship.

 

Posted on October 8, 2017, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. David Wilhelms

    Hello Miriam,
    You rightly touch on the issues of information quality amidst the overabundance of information available on the Internet in terms of our readings.

    Rheingold in his Chapter 3 seems to put the onus on the individual without resort to external “governances and restrictions”. From what sources do you see these threats coming and what is the individual’s response?

  2. Your post title and opening paragraph initially made me think it would be a post about one of those food delivery/recipe card services like Blue Apron since that’s another way that businesses are trying to make our lives simpler! So many specialty subscription services and “loot crates” out there, I can’t keep up!

  3. The very first time I used a search engine, when they were pretty new (1995 or so), I was overwhelmed at the number of options that came up. My first impression was that it was just too much; I couldn’t make sense of it all and therefore did not find it too useful. Of course I now Google things routinely, several times a day. Both the search engines and my own crap detection skills have improved. I also laugh to think of the tiny selection of movies I once had access to in my local video store. Now, with so much to choose from, I sometimes find myself thinking, “Do I want to spend my time watching any of this?” The gatekeepers of the future will be the users who post reviews and curate content.

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