I may have hinted a few weeks back that I was less than forthcoming about writing a blog. Contrary to what you might think, this is not because I am (A) a miserable stick in the mud; (B) unimaginative or (C) shy. I do recognise that blogs can be a useful forum not only for social interaction but also for an exchange of viewpoint.
The environment of the web is one in which everyone has the freedom to say exactly what they want, how they want, when they want. The internet facilitates a world in which anybody can publish anything, regardless of content or veracity. Is this a good thing? I am by no means against freedom of speech but I am slightly baffled as to why the content of someone’s sandwich at lunchtime merits publication.
The blogosphere is a sea of fleeting thoughts crystallised and made permanent electronically, when in another day and age they would have remained transient or at the very most scribbled on a diary looked at by no one else. (Also, with online journals - because that is essentially what blogs are- there is a latent self-consciousness to the writing, owing to an anticipated audience, that isn’t as prevalent in “paper” diaries.)
I remember reading an article in the Times Culture magazine a few months ago which discussed the impact that Web 2.0 has had on our lives. I have since misplaced the article but thankfully the author, Bryan Appleyard, had the good grace to publish it online. The following was of most interest to me:
"There are more than 70m blogs in the world, and hundreds of millions of users of MySpace, Facebook, Bebo and the rest, and since all of these numbers are growing rapidly, we are creating a world in which everybody can talk — or, more commonly, shout — about themselves to everybody else. This is already changing politics, the record industry, printmedia, advertising and will, in time, change, perhaps to the point of destruction, almost everything else."
If you are so inclined, you can read the rest of the article here (but please do come back… you never know, I might say something important).
What I’m getting at here is that it seems as though something cosmic happens to an opinion as soon as it is published. The moment something is in print, provided it is said with a degree of authority, it is often automatically afforded a credibility that it doesn’t always deserve. This is likely because in days gone by the publication process was much more laborious – there was generally money at stake and thus things tended not to get published unless they were of interest to people and had a chance of being profitable. Nowadays, publication on the web is free and is generally an instant process. It may sound like an obvious point to make but just because it’s written in black and white doesn’t mean it’s accurate.
Take Wikipedia by way of example. I very much like its premise – a mass sharing of knowledge taken from the acronym “What I Know Is” but what people may sometimes forget is that whilst it’s an exciting and worldwide collaborative brainstorming session, there is very little editorial work done on these entries, to say nothing of source citing. Fragments of knowledge are embellished and presented as fact. And yet people use it like an encyclopaedia for research purposes.
Of course everyone is entitled to an opinion but when people blatantly start making things up and dressing it up as truth I think it’s very dangerous. As long as people understand that Wikipedia is not factually sound we’ll be okay but if not, we are in danger of moving further and further away from the truth in a mass game of Chinese whispers. Without being discerning, the user’s learning will become increasingly diluted, polluted by inaccuracies. Of course Wikipedia wasn’t around when I was a student, and I’m not saying that if it was I wouldn’t have used it but I think I would have known not to take it verbatim. On the whole I think such a site encourages a lazy learning, and therefore it could be argued that the net, if used without discrimination, could be hazardous.