The Internet: A Rant.
Did you know that if you go for an extended period of time on less than six hours of sleep per night, you reach a point where your mind is functioning at a state equivalent to intoxication? In other words, you’re basically going about your day and driving your car around other people while border-line drunk.
I read that somewhere, and goodness knows if it’s really true or not. Seriously, you read so many random facts on the internet that sound like gospel truth but that just as easily could’ve erupted from the inebriated, half-conscious brain of a college dropout. (What? No, that is absolutely not representative of myself.)
I mean, how do you really know what’s fake or genuine information anymore? The fact is, the internet has become a craptastic melting pot of brain vomit (excuse the graphic language) that anyone and their pet capuchin monkey can add to if they want. Let that percolate in your mind for a hot second.
For example, did you know that anyone can contribute to Wikipedia? (And that’s a real fact. Like, for real.) I mean, the online encyclopedia that is basically the worldwide conglomeration of all the knowledge of all time that high school and college students are now going to for research (even though they’re usually forbidden to cite it) is open and editable to anyone in the world. Wikipedia itself says in its contribution rules, “Just about anyone can edit almost any article at any given time, even without logging in.”
Okay, sure, it hopefully will be reviewed and/or improved by someone else who supposedly has like at least one degree after their name (or the experiential equivalent), and Wikipedia says they require that the information given in articles be verifiable in reliable sources, but does anyone actually confirm whether that is taking place? If that were true, why are there Wiki entries out there that say something to the effect of, “This article may have false or unverified information. Please feel free to edit and improve it if you know what the heck you’re doing. Not that we’re going to vet you first or anything, ’cause, you know, we trust you.”
Like, is that even legal? Apparently so, but then again, child marriage is still legal in most US states (FYI, I did not get that fact from Wikipedia). So, yeah...
Another Wiki info section reads, ”...Wikipedia can be edited by anyone at any moment. Although when an error is recognized, it is usually fixed. However, because Wikipedia cannot monitor thousands of edits made every day, some of those edits could contain vandalism or could be simply wrong and left unnoticed for days, weeks, months, or even years.” (emphasis added)
Wow. Well, there’s your answer. And I find that mildly disturbing. For the record, I love browsing the gold mine (or is it a land mine?) of information on Wikipedia as much as the next person, but it sort of shatters my little secure bubble in which I’d like to have complete faith that what I’m reading is actual fact. I know, how often is that actually the case? It should probably be a rule of thumb to take everything you read online with a grain or two of salt.
I suppose the point of an online encyclopedia is so that many people from all walks and fields can come together and contribute their personal experience and knowledge to a searchable database—which is a fantastic thing, believe me—but that also leaves the door open for michievous teenagers and well-intentioned individuals who actually don’t know what they’re talking about and/or are just copying and pasting from other unverified sources.
These days, anyone can start a blog or social media account or news reporting site and get it to look all legit and professional, and all the poor unsuspecting grannies and the countless gullible people frequenting the cyberworld will never be any the wiser. Am I one of those people? Sure, I probably have been a victim (perhaps even a perpetrator) of disinformation at some time during my years of journeying through the worldwide web. That’s why it’s so critical to be sure of your source before you disseminate information. Which is often difficult to verify.
You know the phrase, I’m going to google that? “Definition: Google: verb. to look something up on the Google.com search engine.” Did I google that definition? Of course not. I just looked it up in my own impressive vault of mental information. Which you can place complete and total faith in, because my brain is patently infallible. (See what I did there?) But anyway, what I’m getting at is that anyone can “google” anything and Google will assure them that they are accessing the latest and most accurate stream of information available. But is it really? That’s the immortal question. Because Google also warns us of falling for the lure of fake news, evidently going so far as to censor what they believe is false or harmful information. But who knows what is really fake news and what is not? You’ll encounter wildly differing views and finger pointing from both sides. Who to believe? I guess that’s another question for the experts.
All this is not to say that there has never been false or fake information at large in the world pre-internet. Talk to the snake oil salesmen and the flat-earthers and the challengers of Copernicus’s heliocentric solar system. I guess it’s always gonna be a problem, but it seems we have it acutely worse in the Internet age. Information is so dang available now—literally at our fingertips.
So maybe there’s a reason it’s called the worldwide web. The Internet. The name basically implies a tangled mess of interconnected threads that are nearly impossible to track all the way to their sources. It’s a fitting label.
I guess there’s also a reason why Twitter/IG handles now have the little verified check mark next to them. Without it, anyone can pretend to be someone they’re not and perpetuate false information in the name of that person. And the world of cyber security...I hear that’s a job market ripe for the picking.
Mis/disinformation and data/identity fraud. Talk about first-world issues. Have we really advanced and evolved as a race? Well, maybe in some ways. In others, we’ve just figured out how to upgrade the wheel from a crude wooden one that’s not even a perfect circle into a high performance tire with custom chrome rims. Meh, whatever. It’s still a wheel.
Is there a point to all of this? I’m not sure yet. Please tell me if you find one and I will be immensely grateful to you.
Disclaimer: For the record, I was perfectly sober while writing the above post. But I may or may not have gotten less than six hours of sleep a night in the recent past; therefore, I cannot be held responsible for the accuracy or lack thereof of certain statements made herein. For your own sake, I advise you not to quote me on anything I have stated here unless it is verified by at least three experts.