Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Internet and Information (Is it making us dumber? Smarter? No difference at all?)

This is something I was just thinking about... based on another thought I had (go figure, right?)  I was reading an article, and some of the comments said something along the lines of "This should have been proof-read before being published."  That lead me to start thinking about the internet in general.  The first thing that popped into my head was along the lines of "Anyone can post anything now, and anyone will believe it.  The internet just propogates un-informed ideas."  I mean, if you think about it, it's sort of true.  Look at my blog, for example... It's all opinions, and not a whole lot of research.  If someone wasn't thinking, they could look at some of what I say and say "Oh, well, Nina said it, so it must be true!"  Actually, as a side note, that would be really flattering, but probably not always the wisest idea.  Anyways, back on topic.  In the past, there would only be a few ways that people would be able to read my blog entries:

1)  Published in a newspaper/magazine - where someone most likely looked over the articles and ensured that grammer/etc. was correct.

2)  I wrote and gave copies of my posts to my friends.  In that case, I would probably only have 10-15 people reading what I wrote (I think I would be too lazy to distribute more)

3) I wrote a book with all of my thoughts/ideas and published it (again, I would hope that would have been proof read). 

These days, however, all I have to do is write up a quick blog, post it onto my Facebook, and BAM - depending on how interesting my blog entry title subject is - there are 100 reads right within a couple of hours!  If you were to go back to the ninetees, when I was a teenager,  it would have been much harder for that many people to read my writing.

So my point is that it is much easier to get access to information now, and it's much easier to put information which may or may not be correct. Duh, right?  Well, here's where my thought process went.  The first thought I had earlier was that the internet is probably just mis-informing people, and people are getting dumber because they have all of this incorrect information, and nobody has to proof-read anything anymore, etc. etc.  I actually feel kind of old for thinking that at all... People who were born ten years after me ALL had computers in their early teenage years (that most likely didn't include a dial-up tone or very fast-loading pages!) 

Then I got to thinking a little deeper...  The internet, despite some people's opinions, and many comments I read on articles/etc., does not make people dumber.  It might make people lazier in a way... But if you are actually thinking about what you are doing and reading, you won't be misinformed.  Actually, in a way, it teaches you to think critically because you have such an abundance of information thrown at you.  I know in college Wikipedia was an incredibly popular source of information, but the professors were  constantly touting "It is NOT a valid resource!"  And they were correct; however, anyone with any type of education could tell you that.  They could ALSO tell you that if you're smart about it, you can use the resources from Wikipedia to find out more information from reliable sources on a given topic.  Having the vast amounts of information available on the internet can be both positive and negative.  If you aren't smart about it, you might believe anything you read.  But, if you are smart about it, you can learn quite a bit about tons of topics, and then sort through that on what you want to believe.  You just have to learn what the term "reliable sources" really means..   In the past, you might only be able to find a couple of books on a topic, and if it was published, well, it HAD to be correct, right? Well, yeah, that's true if you only have access to a couple of books in a library on a particular topic.  What else CAN you believe?

 But now us mere citizens with Bachelor's degrees (or high school degrees, or any type of education that teaches them to read) can actually access information from medical journals and studies and all sorts of information that you would NOT have had access to in the past.  If you can distinguish between good and bad information, you can actually make some decisions for yourself.  I just thought of a conversation I had with one of my best friends in medical school right now who said that the patient-doctor relationship is changing.  Instead of the doctor just telling the patient what to do, the patient can have a role in treatment.  In the past, that would have been MUCH more difficult.  Other than the patient telling the doctor how they were feeling, they probably couldn't do very much in the way of "interacting."  What choice did they have than to listen to the doctor?   An example is after my last seizure when the neurologist asked me about symptoms and I said something about an aura without even thinking about it.  She says "How do you know what an aura is?"  Um... because I researched the weird deja vu/dizziness/sometimes nauseous feelings I was getting, and found it exactly matched the description of an aura. Or when my primary care manager wanted me to switch medication to another type, I was able to access databases and learned there were several other medications I could use with less side effects (I didn't switch - I'd rather wait until I see an actual neurologist for that one - too much at stake there).  Now, that's not to say that the internet can take the place of a professional in areas that require a lot of study (medical, law, etc.), but it can help keep a regular citizen informed of things they might not otherwise understand very well. 

So to conclude this entry.  No, the internet does not make people dumber.  In reality, it helps people to learn more information and think more critically about the information they are being fed - as you ARE much more likely to come across faulty information on the internet than you would be if you only read published books and articles. I could say it makes people lazy when it comes to writing, but even that isn't necessarily true.  Yes, my blog entry is full of grammer mistakes, but guess what?  It's not published, so it doesn't matter.  My own handwritten journal entries I've been keeping since I was 11 years old are also full of grammatical errors, and writing those didn't make me lazy either.  Being lazy when it counts is what makes you lazy.   I will say, however, that it drives me INSANE when people type like 5 year old children just learning how to read and write, with zero punctuation whatsoever (if your punctuation makes it hard to understand what you are trying to say, you probably should fix it). 

Hope some of you found that a little interesting.  If not, well, it's my blog :-p  !  Hehe.