How to combat information overload
We live in the information age. No matter whom you are or where you live, you are now as close as a computer and a telephone line to a virtual sea of numbers, words and pictures on every possible subject. You have got access. The internet has been hailed as the second coming of Guttenberg, the great democratize of knowledge, our salvation from all ignorance. It has also been demonized as a smut peddler, a substitute for life, a potential addiction and the final destroyer of the printed page.
Its just a tool, as morally neutral as a blank sheet of paper and a pencil. Like any tool, it can be used for a variety of motives, and it can help you or hurt you, depending on how you misuse it. The good news: Just about anybody can create their very own Home Page. The bad news: Just about everybody has created their very own Home Page. Good News: Everything you could possible want or need to know is online. Bad News: Tons of stuff you have no possible interest is also online. Good News: Its all there. Bad News: You have to sort through it all and a lot of the information is wrong. Your job is to find the good stuff while avoiding the bad, the irrelevant, the inane and the most important, the downright wrong. You can get lost there and you can waste a ton of time trying to find your way back. Lets put this all in a proper perspective.
Four fundamental truths about the internet:
1. Most People arent on it yet:
As part of the 1994
republican contract with America, House speaker Newt Gingrich promised
a computer, not a chicken in every pot. Fact is, though, lots of folks
still dont have computers, and many of those who do have them
use them as electronic toys and not reference libraries. Only 18 percent
of mutual fund shareholders have internet access and only 28 percent
of them have gone on line to check mutual fund sites, according to a
recent study sponsored by American Century Investments and reported
in the New York Times.
2. The net wont wipe out other Media:
New media dont
destroy old ones. They cause the old ones to change. Case in Point:
the advent of television was supposed to run radio right off the airwaves.
All the pundits said so. Radio had been our constant companion, keeping
us company, educating and informing us and telling us stories endless
stories. Radio didnt die when television took over as our main
source of news and information, our national storyteller and our talking
night light. It changed from broadcasting to narrowcasting with focused
formats like easy listening, oldies, hard rock, soft rock, all talk
and all news. We call various personalities for financial and love advice
and medical advice. We go to Art for UFO and alien invasion updates
and to Rush for a big swig of conservative philosophy and media bashing.
Radio has survived and thrived by learning to serve different needs.
Heroin is addictive, Nicotine is addictive, Caffeine is addictive, Alcohol is addictive, at least for people who are genetically susceptible to alcoholism. The net is not addictive. Theres no such thing as net addiction. It may absorb way too much of your time, especially at first. For some it may supplement and perhaps even replace face to face human contact, as virtual relationships become a fact of modern life. For some it has no doubt become a way to escape real life or a means of manifesting inherent compulsivity. But so far as we know, it doesnt alter brain chemistry or increase the number of neuro receivers. Net withdrawal to the extent that it exists is psychological and not physical. And the compulsive and evasive will always find means of escape, perhaps playing solitaire till dawn with a deck of 51 as the old Statler Brothers Classic puts it.
4. Information is not wisdom:
Its not even knowledge, its just information. YOU ARE THE QUALITY CONTROL. The net is disorderly at best and total chaos for the beginner. Its awfully hard to find your way. The computer gives you access to just about everything, but it doesnt synthesize and sift. If you havent been trained to abstract, synthesize and summarize, this can be an enormous and time consuming challenge. And finally you must distinguish the wheat fro the chaff, useful information from nonsense, true facts from downright fabrication.
Five ways to
verify information on the net:
People always check the best if purchased before date on the carton of milk before putting it into their cart. Information has a shelf life and can spoil too. Check to see when the site was last updated.
2. Consider the source:
Dont unplug your skepticism when you plug into the net. Boot your bunk detector when you log on. Always ask the fundamental question: Says who? Notoriety is not a substitute for knowledge and credibility does not equal veracity. Even well known and widely acknowledged sources can be flat out wrong.
3. Track down the ultimate source:
By the time you get your information online, it may have passed through many computers, been filtered by many minds. What is the initial source of the information? Pay attention to the citation, the according to. Sometimes you have to hunt to find it, lost in the linkage garble that tells you where messages came from. If you cant find the primary source ask. If nobody will tell you where the stuff came from, be especially suspicious. This isnt just a problem for online information, of course. Usually reliable print sources can be just as wrong.
4. Separate fact statements from opinion statements:
A fact statement can be verified. If someone tells you that its raining you can look out the window to determine for yourself if moisture is indeed falling. A fact statement can be true or false. It may, in fact not be raining in which case its raining is a false statement of fact, but its still a statement of fact because you can prove it or disprove it. A false fact statement may be innocent or intended to deceive. The weather stinks is an opinion statement. You can determine the presence or absence of precipitation, but you cant prove that the weather stinks. Some folks love the rain. Even its raining may be subject to interpretation, of course. One persons rain is another persons drizzle or heavy mist or thick dew. There are few absolutes in this life. But you can and must separate fact statements from opinion statements and evaluate them accordingly as you sift and winnow your way through the bewildering array of info bites on line.
5. Cross Check:
If your mother
says she loves you, get a second source. This bit of cynical wisdom
drives every good reporter to verify fact statements for accuracy by
getting a second and perhaps a third source. If sources conflict, get
a tie breaker or simply note that youve got conflicting facts
to deal with and withhold judgment before basing your conclusions on
such a shaky foundation.
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