internet Living in an area rife with colleges, our lives tend to be awash in free publications.  They vary in quality from excellent to – well – crap.  Yesterday, I was perusing a paper that lands somewhere away from the excellent end of the spectrum, and I came across an article written by a guy who calls himself a ‘parenting expert’.  The oxymoronic nature of this label struck me as being so humorous I felt compelled to tweet a tweet on the subject.  One of my tweeps (not sure how I feel about that term.  On the surface, I kind of like it, but I’m generally ill-disposed toward words that don’t lend themselves to the singular) responded, calling the ‘parenting expert’ a professional delusionist. I asked permission to use the term, and it was granted (thanks, Jason).

Truth be told, I am so fond of the term Professional Delusionist that I am seriously thinking about including it on my business cards and résumé.  I’ll probably put it right after Outrageous Liar.

Anyway, the delusionist oversimplified parenting styles into two oppositional categories,  then went on to explain how his personal theory fit perfectly in the middle.  Having thus proven his idiocy, he finished up his piece with a ‘fact check’ in which he endeavored to “correct some misinformation that is out there”.  This ‘correction’ includes an admonishment to “check the records (not the Internet)”, as well as a brief discussion of how a tidbit of misinformation “ran wild on the Internet”.

Okay.  Let’s see if we can hack this to bits.  A good place to start would be the common misperception that disinformation and the Internet are conjoined twins.  The adage “Don’t believe everything you read (or hear)” was kicking around long before anyone dreamed up the Internet, and for good reason.  People lie.  They do it often, for a multitude of reasons, and in pretty much all media.  Sometimes they do it knowingly, but oft-times they do it because they think they’re doing the exact opposite.  But this is a discussion for another day.

The Internet, unlike most other forms of media, has the ability to correct itself.  It is a constantly-evolving creature (I hear you, Drew.  Allow me a bloody metaphor.  Possibly an analogy and/or simile).  There was a time when only geeks could effectively navigate the archipelagoes of cyberspace, but as times have changed, so has the Internet.  This manifests itself as better browsers, more intelligent search engines, more intuitive web sites and cleaner code.

Translated to human:  The Internet works better than it used to.  And anyone can use it well, if they just treat it as critically as they treat their newspaper or TV.

Allow me to demonstrate.  Open up another browser window, or just another tab.  Go to Google and search for:

Man Arrested for Wearing McCain Shirt at Obama Victory Rally

Those of you who are intensely lazy can just click on this.

Okay.  Let’s look at our results.  The first thing that should catch your eye is that the titles of all the links we’re seeing are very similar.  This is the kind of thing that should throw up warning flags.  What it’s telling us is that all those pages are either A) linking to the same source, or B) linking to each other.

We can put these results to the test.  In this case, we’re looking at page after page that discuss a McCain supporter who was arrested at an Obama victory rally just for wearing a pro-McCain T-shirt! It seems to me that if such an event actually occurred, there would be some mention of it in the news.

Let’s go back to our search page.  At the top left, you see a list:  Web, Images, Videos, Maps, News, Shopping, Gmail, more.  Click on ‘News’ and see what happens.

Nothing.  Not a single mention in the news (not even at Fox!) of this event.  Does this mean that the event did not occur?  No.  Just that it’s unlikely.

Alright.  So here’s what we just did – we started with a rumor (in blue letters above), we found out whether it was being talked about (our first search), then we checked to see if any reputable sources were talking about it (our second, ‘news’ search).  In a nutshell, we came across a rumor and determined that it was crap. And all it took us a couple of minutes.

This, my friends, is the power of the Internet.  But it only works if you couple it with a discerning mind.

Which is what far too few people do.  A friend once told me about a phenomenon he referred to as ‘barroom philosopher’.  A ‘barroom philosopher’ is a person who expresses their ideas in a room full of drunken people.  When the rest of the drunks agree with them, the ‘barroom philosopher’ thinks that they’re actually onto something.  It doesn’t occur to them to question the fact that a bunch of drunks are agreeing with them.

The Internet has a similar phenomenon, and Jason hit upon it last night.  Jason spoke of the Professional Delusionist, but the Internet is populated with a different creature.  What you find on the Internet are internet Prowling amateur delusionists.

Or iPads.