Sunday, March 8, 2009

The More You Know The Less You Know

by Madeleine Kando

I am one of those people who like to take short-cuts whenever they can. In fact, I am famous in my family as the person who takes short-cuts through town and ends up getting lost. My children have dubbed me ‘the longest short-cut taker in the world’. So, when I want to find an answer to something I don’t know, my knee-jerk reflex is to take 5 steps across the living room and sit down at my computer. ‘Never fear, the Internet is here!’ is my motto. What an invention, I think to myself. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, at a click of my heels I am transported from Kansas to anywhere I desire in an instant.You don’t know what time it is in Hawaii? Look it up on the web. You want to know what the germination time is of string beans in New England? Go to the web. You want to find the ultimate answer to the current financial crisis? Click your heels and presto: the answer is at your fingertips!

But as with my real life short-cuts, this tactic often leads me further away from my goal than when I started.

Someone once said that the average information on the Internet is not much more useful than the advise you get from a well-intentioned, misinformed friend. Personally, I would like to compare it to shopping at Marshalls. You have to sift through 10 tons of garbage to find something half-way decent to wear. In fact, I have a suspicion that the internet is slowly making smart people more stupid and stupid people THINK they are smart.

One way to gage the value of information is to find out how much time was invested in collecting it, researching it, editing it, putting it in writing etc. But the problem with the Internet is that most of the information you look at is free. So, if information is free, who's paying to produce it? As we all know (or should know) nothing comes without a price in this cruel world.

The notion that the Internet would be accurate is an illusion. Much of it is based on opinion anyway, not fact. Facts always go on the chopping block of the opinionated (except for this blog of course). The other point against the ‘accuracy’ hypothesis is that too many people contribute to the information. The Internet is the ultimate equalizer, blurring truth and falsehood, accuracy and generality, until everything is becoming so opaque and irrelevant that much of the information is worthless.

It is ironic that in the Middle Ages information was only available to the very few (the church). But it was mostly accurate because it was produced by the few. Now, all surfers are created equal. The information on the internet is of the many, by the many and for the many. Does that make it accurate or just available?

I have reached a point in my life where I can spend more time reading about politics, history, science…. activities that are fiscally irresponsible, activities that enrich my mind, rather than my pocket book. But I am careful not to let my short-cut addiction blind me to the fact that looking for answers to more in-depth questions on the Internet is like looking for diamonds in a spider’s nest.

I have set my internal BS detection meter to its highest setting when I go on one of my short-cut surf binges. That has served me well. In fact, I recommend that the next generation PC’s come with anti-BS software pre-installed. While surfing, you would get a message that reads: ‘warning! Your machine has been infected with the BS virus. Please quarantine immediately and restart your system’.
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