Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.
These have been the staples of formal education and skills that most modern societies value. And for good reason. At the beginning of literacy as we know it in Western society, monastic scribes and clerics recorded and perpetuated “the word” to their congregations and followers. Then the 15th Century invention of the printing press accelerated the reproduction of information of many kinds so that wider non-sectarian audiences could share it. And those of us who learned to read (usually in school) benefited from the “age of the printed book”.
Most scholarship and research has been converted to printed material with control over the editing of the information delegated to editors, publishers, and organizations who had the means to pay for its production and dissemination to users. That control pipeline assured users (readers) that the information would be relevant (to its intended audience), was grammatically readable, fair, true, honest, and of value.
And now the Internet. With both the creation and dissemination of information in the hands of most individuals via digital media, the former production pipeline has been supplanted by the Internet. For the first time in literate history, the same kinds of information we once could trust and depend upon from renowned authors, publishing houses, magazines, editors, commentators, and organizations, now bombards us daily on millions of Internet homepages, tens of millions of blogs, and a relatively small number of refereed journals or respected Internet sources. And the information is provided in the midst of visual clutter and other distractions. But either way we’re not getting the same quality of information. Yes, that IS a huge value judgment!
Please don’t forget that scholarly motives brought us literacy in the first place. So evaluating information for its quality – in general – continues to be one measure of its value. But how to do that with Internet information? Consider the source. Anyone anywhere at any time can drop an opinion on you, in a blog, email, text message, or even as an article on a safe, respected web site. At present we define a site’s respectability by whether it enables or prevents nefarious activity. We have become accustomed to permit such free speech and not to limit contributions to the “conversation”. And also, who do we trust these days, the NSA?
Fortunately (to many) the approved public school instructional materials in most states of the US are still written by content scholars, edited by groups of their peers, bought from respected publishers in print or digital format, and reviewed by some 3rd party authority for their relevance, quality, truthfulness and grade-level readability.
The Tyranny of the Internet is that too quickly we have lost the silent, background gate-keeping of our information that we had come to enjoy. The Washington Post, New York Times, and Life Magazine have changed radically as their editorial focus has diffused into broadcast television, cable news, Facebook, Twitter, and other kinds of immediate, instant information that we now use. The good news is that we now have eBooks from the likes of Kindle and other kinds of more “respectable” media outlets that we can trust.
The best news is that there is now so much scattered information in so many sources and locations that no single human could either read or find most of it in a single day. So focus and selection is up to the user, you and me. And the sources themselves are also ours to choose or reject. After all, most are free of charge.
Here are six suggestions on how to begin (or continue as the case may be).
1. Consider the source. If the website itself looks cheap or ugly (to you) then . . . Anyone can put up a web site or post a bog.
2. Scholarship demands transparency. Look for qualified sources of information who list their names, titles, roles.
3. Look for an obvious track record – copyright, other recent posts, Twitter follows and followers, LinkedIn connections, Facebook timeline. They key here is that the author/writer/poster is serious about sharing information and has a record to prove it. New contributors will prove that over time.
4. Value the message. Topic, relevance, and balance where sides are important.
5. Silently demand clarity – spelling, grammar, and punctuation count (to me at least).
6. Embrace other cultures and languages. (use Google Translate or a similar translation tool)
And if you’ve read this far and think me a bit old-fashioned, I apologize if only for my pre-Internet upbringing and experience with such things.
Thanks to The Cloud is Huge