The Misinformation Age

Do you remember 10 years ago when people said, “don’t trust everything you read on the Internet?” It seems that statement has almost come full circle as uninformed politicians and news commentators tackle subjects like SOPA and Google’s new consolidated privacy policy.

We now live in an age where our country’s (and world’s) economic engine runs on the ability for people to easily connect around the globe. This is not done with wireless telegraph, overseas phone transmissions or airmail, but by a network of computers connected through a series of switches, routers and other transmission devices.

The advantage that this gives us is the combination of some older technologies, the typewriter (word processor), the printing press (your blog), the mimeograph (CTRL+C and CTRL+V), the telephone (Skype), the phonograph (iTunes) and the television (YouTube). Of course, there are several other technologies mixed in, but they are all ideas that we had in the analog world and now we are able to share those tools with each other freely.

The typewriter, in its day, was a technological marvel. Finally the small-scale capabilities of the printing press were available in a “portable” package that you could place on your desktop. The invention of the typewriter has some rich history. The first patent for a typewriter was in 1714 by Henry Mill, ofEngland, which read, “an artificial machine or method for the impressing or transcribing of letters singly or progressively one after another.” (Source: http://site.xavier.edu/polt/typewriters/tw-history.html

The limitation of the typewriter was the number of copies that could be printed simultaneously. Of course you could use carbon copies and so-forth, but it did not carry the same power as the printing press. Fast forward a couple of hundred years and the idea of desktop publishing arose—using a computer to program and design text and images which could be digitally printed and distributed. Even though the technology had advanced from its origins, it was still limited by distance. Sure media could be sent by courier and reproduced and translated in other countries and then distributed to its people, but all of these efforts took a considerable amount of time.

In the last 20 years as the Internet started to develop, this problem of distance and time was eradicated. No longer did you have to wait for a courier to bring you the media to be reproduced, it can be designed, shared, printed and broadcast immediately after the author clicks “send.” This capability has helped the world advance as people from other countries were able to freely share ideas, research data and collaborate on projects more easily. However, some people enjoyed the novelty and convenience of it.

There are plenty of websites that are home to misinformation. In fact, I came upon one yesterday that was talking about the medical effects of 8K super-definition televisions. If you did a Google search for the websites title, you would find that there were dozens of carbon copies of the site with the same text, each hosting the same content and a different set of ads, possibly generating hundreds if not thousands of dollars for the website’s proprietor each month.

As the Internet evolved, bandwidth availability increased and more and more citizens of the globe became interconnected, the scale of growth was exponential, and as a result, had a profound impact on the US economy in the first few years of the 21st century.

Although so many people are connected, regardless of their race, age, location, vocation or financial status, there are still so many people in positions of power and political influence that do not know, understand or care to understand how the communication between these computers networked around the world works.

Instead of taking the time to sit down and read a consolidated privacy policy and contrast it to the 60-some other policies that existed before, they would make generalizations about the revised policy making unfounded statements. The problem with the Internet as how it relates to politics is that not enough of our politicians understand how it works.

Take the first typewriter, for example. It was a technological marvel. The intricacies of the levers, hammers and spools were spectacular. In fact, the machine was so complicated, the alphabet had to be rearranged just to make the thing work (QWERTY) without jamming. But, as technology advanced and more mechanical machines were constructed, the typewriter started to appear simple in its construction. Now how many of us could take all of the parts of a typewriter and assemble them into a working machine?

If people want to talk about the Internet, talk about its intricacies, the way that data is collected, shared and stored, they should probably take a moment to learn about it, understand it. People writing legislation, newspaper editorials and making comments on radio and television are often ill-equipped to make generalizations about subjects they do not fully understand.

It is perfectly okay to admit that you don’t understand a certain subject. In fact, it’s humbling.

In my case, there are lots of aspects of business that I am not the strongest in, and that is where I rely on a network of people to help me. But as those people help me, I ask them to teach me and explain how those aspects work so I will have a better overall understanding.

Before you listen to political pundits and news commentators that have no experience with the Internet tell you that certain things are “ridiculous” a “violation of your privacy” or “good for the content creators and publishers” maybe you should do some research. Read a book. Ask an expert. Read the policies your self.

Don’t let other influential people’s ignorance affect your perception of how or why things work. Stand up for yourself and learn. Don’t preach about things you’re not competent in and don’t let others push their ill-informed agendas on you, your friends, your families or your fellow citizens.

Washington—and most of the media—have demonstrated that they don’t have a clue how the Internet works, nor are they interested in learning. I want to give special credit, though, to a few members of the House that admitted they are not the experts and don’t understand how the Internet works. Chiefly I want to credit US Representatives Jason Chaffetz for conceding that they needed to hear from the experts. Maybe it’s time that his advice and, “bring in the nerds.”

 
photo by Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton on Flickr

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