A musing inspired, by the skepticism which is thrust upon any knowledge gleaned from the internet. While internet resources may not be infallible, are printed works really any more trustworthy?
Now, I would like to say right away that this is not an attack on print. I love print. Printed books were an indelible part of my childhood. I like reading physical textbooks, encyclopedias, historical documents, etc. Having these resources online is great, and extremely convenient, yet I think we should never go without a physical backup that doesn’t require electricity.
The crux of my point this morning, is that a lot of people cast a great deal of skepticism upon internet resources. These people are the polar opposite of those who live by the saying, “I read it on the internet so it must be true.” The latter, unfortunately, consists largely of my generation and my peer group, a fact to which this writer groans. In particular, I’ve noticed that teachers and educators in general tend to look upon the interwebz with a frown.
I can’t totally blame them. Even fantastic sources of information, like Wikipedia, are only, at best, good starting points for research or for citation in a serious piece of work. That’s because anyone can edit this resource, and for every person you get on there who actually knows what they are talking about, you are bound to have a dozen or more that are full of rubbish. Also, the ease with which the average person can start their own website, or their own blog, means that almost anyone with a computer and internet access can get on a soapbox and espouse their opinions as fact.
But I have been thinking for a long while… is this fact as far removed from the reality of printed work as we think? Yes, it is much harder to get yourself physically published than to, say, make a blog such as this one. You need to have a certain level of skill and talent with writing in order to make any kind of career out of it. The men and women who do make careers out of it are the ones who end up writing our dictionaries, our encyclopedias, and our history books. Not to mention magazines, newspapers, digests, journals, novels, poetry, you name it. But these things are, by and large, financially driven, or if not by money, then there is usually some other ulterior motive.
When something is driven by money, politics, religion, or any other strong motivator, it becomes as corruptible and as fallible as any article posted on the interwebz. And because it is in print, such works are treated as authorities on their respective subjects. If it is in print, it must be right. Right?
I’m not saying that we should start second guessing every little thing we read, right down to each and every entry in Mirriam-Webster’s Dictionary. Well, I personally question everything in life, but I recognize that not everyone shares my capacity or enthusiasm for that endeavor. What I am suggesting, is that we be just as scrutinizing of our offline sources of information, as of those we can find online. The history lessons I was taught in grade school are not the same ones being taught to kids of the latest generation. Even their math isn’t the same as what I was taught. Printed sources can be as manipulated by the times and by political correctness as any soapbox article you can find on the internet.
So if you are reading something in a physical book, don’t be afraid to give it the stinkeye. And if you read something on the internet that actually has merit, well, it should be afforded a measure of respect regardless of its medium.