Way back in the days when the Internet was only a trickle into Australia I remember the information available being sparse and unreliable. Many teachers would not accept any information from a website as part of research for a school assignment and rightly so, there was little if anyway to verify that information. The exercise was then left to us to read through countless books in order to back up any statement or opinion we might but forward. Today however the Internet is bristling with information and authoritative sources are popping up all over the place. The interesting about this is that due to the sheer volume of information that’s available you can be almost guaranteed to find some article or news piece that agrees with what you say, which has lead me into a very confounding train of thought.
I’ll take something that I know well just as an example: the economy. Now I’ve made my stance known about this in the past and the data seems to be on my side. For the most part Australia is narrowly avoiding a recession due to our banks being well capitalized and a government not afraid of going into debt to spur the economy on. However I could easily argue the opposite, and in fact a lot of people are. Just to show you how crazy the situation is take for instance these two articles. Both written at the same time but both decreeing completely different viewpoints. These aren’t the only examples either, and it is quite easy to make your point using what appears to be authoritative sources. This then begs the question, is there really a correct answer for this?
The truth is often in the middle of two dissenting viewpoints, especially when it comes to issue that can’t have a definitive answer such as the economy. However due to the volume of information it becomes easy for one side to write off the others since they appear to have so much support for their side of the argument. This unfortunately leads phenomena best described as wikiality, or truth by majority vote. In the end it probably won’t matter that you have the majority of data on your side because if you’re in the minority, when debating using the information available on the Internet, you will eventually be “proven” wrong. It is an unfortunate consequence of this information overload.
There has been a lot of work done over the past decade to create authoritative information sources however with the advent of easy access to the Internet and its publishing capabilities they are soon lost in the noise. I often try to link onto articles from these sources in order to promote them but I can’t say that I’m innocent in this regard either. All too often I link to Wikipedia hoping that people will scroll to the bottom to read actual articles from proper sources but I know that’s not usually the case. Overall Wikipedia is a good source, however the mentality of wikiality makes some articles unusable, and it can be hard to tell them apart.
To be honest though we’re better off with having too much information than not enough. There is enough information out there for anyone to be able to make up their own mind on pretty much any issue that comes up. It is regrettable that the noise is so high but that is the price we pay for the ultimate freedom of allowing anyone instant access to both read and publish limitless information.
Arrrrrgggghhhh the cognitive dissonance! 😉