Tuesday, April 13, 2010

It's On The Internet, So It MUST Be True!

As I enter my not-even-close-to twilight years, I have reached the stage in my life where I compare and contrast the trails I've blazed to.... what the hell are those teens and twenty something's up to now? I've had a few *dozen* conversations of late regarding how easy the 'whipper-snappers' of today have it (I'm on the cusp of 40 and claim the right to use the term 'whipper-snapper' ironically and with quotations). Notably, I was part of a recent rant with a school teacher regarding how the students of the Right-Now Generation have it so easy when it comes to research on even the most vexing of problems. All the thirsty mind has to do it tap-tap-tap and there it is, glowing on the screen-- the Universe. In my youth, I had to do something unheard of. Something so remarkably archaic, it boggles the mind. I had to crack open a book. My step-daughter (and future zygote(s)) will never know the joys of paging though the Encyclopedia Britanica Volume M-P in order to finish social studies report #30 on the Meerkat. They won't have to wrinkle their noses at the slightly musty scent, feel that dry crackle at their finger tips or listen to the soft whisper of paper as they shuffle past those particular leaves of knowledge. It brings to mind that scene in The Time Machine, original of course, when Rod Taylor berates the poor, unsuspecting Eloi for letting their books turn to dust. Will the remake of the remake have our hero smashing a pile of rusted nooks? I wonder.

My family had the ultimate Encyclopedia set - it took up an entire wall in our living room, and it was very, very old. The material was so dated that leaded nipples were still listed as a remedy to quiet baby when fussy (this is real - look it up!). Our set was a garage sale find of my mom's before I was even born, and I'm pretty sure it required a pick-up truck and some heavy back strain to transport the collection from the neighbors garage to our home. Oh -the hours I spent looking up outdated material to throw into my school reports. These were books compiled when ailments such as the dropsies, lumbago and rheumatiz plagued society. To this day, I'm sure my teachers graded me on volume rather than timely content. Even after I left the nest, I would occasionally page through my old friends on my visits back. Imagine my heartbreak when, in the mid-90's, I was informed that the books were disposed of. It was much like I felt when my parents unloaded their massive collection of National Geographic (go ahead and raise your hand if N.G. was your first introduction to soft core porn too. Nice!).

We are now in THE instant gratification society. I could talk about fast-food and microwaves, but all that has been around thickening our wastes and growing alien DNA in our brains for decades. The previous cry of 'I want it now' has not been satiated even close to the degree that we have seen in the last decade. It's all about the world wide web, as it grows bigger, faster, stronger *URL SMASH* The answers to our questions resolved in a quick google search. A person is born, lives, loves and dies right there on a single Wiki page. Entire books are written and lives problems solved in increments of 140 characters or less. We can see our friends from middle school to middle age in a single online photo albumn. This is how we are, and this is where we're going - fast!

A reminder of what www means. World Wide Web. We used to say it before each site link. Then we switched to saying www. We even quit saying that and just started referring to simple titles. We don't really say that either. In fact, it's all old news. Now it's just 'my' this or that. My website or my facebook. Facebook is the network, YOU have a page. The concept that these pages of information reside at a web address of their very own baffles the youth of today. There's no need when all it takes is a single word in a search window to get you to where you want to be RIGHT NOW. Example: when Jonny asked Miss N for her class project url, she said 'There isn't one...type my school name. It's just there'* Future - I'm skeered.

With information coming at us with ease at such high volume, inaccuracy abounds, and the world web of lies has great staying power. That brings me back to my rant with the teacher. Her students are able to get their assignments done at the speed of light, but the students sources are not always validated and their projects are often filled with exciting, and wrong, information. The students are dismayed as they did exactly what they were supposed to do, researched the topic. Points are lost and disappointment is gained. "But, it MUST be true! The internet said so!". Miss N helped to support my point only last week. She informed me with great authority that McDonald's was founded in Europe in the mid-80's. She was SURE she was right because her source was the internet.

My own family was recently effected by the monster of misinformation. The seed of a single press release hitting the newswire resulted in at least a spruce tree of skewed truth branching into several publications, web sites and blogs. They all shared the happy, if not a bit inaccurate, news of a celebribaby and it's would be parents. I had a great deal of e-mails in my box last Wednesday morning, telling me the shocking news that my husband was reported as the father of a star child. Not only was it on the web - but it was in print...in the Strib! Yes, there is a baby to be, yes the mom is thrilled...as is the father that baby-momma happens to be currently, blissfully, married to. And no, my husband is not the baby-daddy.

It's not just the inaccuracy, but it's the speed of which the web of untruth gets spun. It took less than an hour for a hoax regarding Gordon Lightfoot's death to travel from a small site in Canada to nearly a third of the postings on facebook (well, MY facebook homepage...I know a lot of Lightfoot fans). Twitter was flooded with the hoax even faster than facebook - trending topic in 3...2...

There can be retractions for these stories, but there's always a ghost of the lie that remains, floating on the grid. The Encyclopedia came to us at a slow pace. No retractions necessary. New discoveries were made, new volumes were printed. OK, so you had to rely on common sense to throw out the lead 'baby soothers', but that's just about simple evolution right there. Nice and easy. New print comes out, old print gets recycled. The stories of the web, however, still hang out in the blogosphere. There's still stories about the untimely demise of Gordon, and there are are still photos of a celebribaby dad-to-be with my Jonny's name captioned underneath.

The untruth is out there.

*When he typed in the school name as directed...the project was not 'just there' :-D Miss N was completely nonplussed.


Blogger MissTrixi said...

Oh, and the WWW has informed me that the Encyclopedia Britanica Boy has a MySpace page.
Thanks internets!

9:26 PM  

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