Finally finished the English essay that has been slowly killing me for the past two weeks.


A Different Kind of Knowledge

By urban_twilight
March 15, 2009

The local library seems strangely deserted lately. The haphazardly strewn tables and scattered chairs are forlornly deserted, the rows upon rows of shelves yawning with abandonment. On the other side of the library, an insistent disturbance echoes across the silence: the sound of restless fingers on computer keyboards. A column of flickering computer screens stands at attention, with not one chair left unoccupied. Occasionally, someone will abandon their post only to be replaced promptly by another. I shake my head in disbelief. How can these people, when surrounded by so many books, bear to spend their time staring at a computer screen? With a myriad of written knowledge at their disposal, what is it that these people are seeking with such fervor and devoutness? It is still knowledge, but it's a different kind of knowledge, where accuracy and quality are replaced with obscurity.

With words like “Google-it” and “wik-it” becoming a part of everyday vocabulary, knowledge is becoming more easily accessible by Internet; slowly dislodging the dusty encyclopedias that line our shelves. Research that once required hours of library time and careful leafing through texts can now be done within a few minutes. With the click of a mouse, we are offered hundreds of choices flashing right before our eyes. To most people, this endless variety and choice is the key to satisfaction, and we delight in its quickness and accessibility. We want our information right now. Though this way of gaining knowledge is convenient indeed, it does present an interesting problem. Imagine the flow of information across the Internet as a river; with no boundaries between what is true and what is false, making it almost impossible to distinguish between the two. The information that people can so easily access is vulnerable to corruption; as most of the time we have little to no inclination to verify what we are reading. The Internet has caused us to become careless with our knowledge. We are no longer searching for the truth, but for the most convenient way to obtain information. With the herald of websites such as Wikipedia, it is becoming increasingly easier to overlook reliable sources for flawed ones.

Self described as “a multilingual, web-based, free content encyclopedia project," Wikipedia is an interactive website that allows anyone to contribute to their extended archive of articles. Through these mediums, the flow of information is constantly fluctuating and changing; and while this creates greater flexibility, in it also lies the potential for abuse. The allure of Wikipedia is in its convenience; after all, who would bother searching a real encyclopedia or in a library when the “same” information is but a click away? Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, described the website as a ”repository of living knowledge,” run by dedicated individuals devoted to “redefining intellect.” While this may very well be true, many aspects of Wikipedia can be misleading. Basically, a lack of credibility. On interactive websites like Wikipedia, this shortcoming stems from the ability of anyone, from middle school students to PhDs, to alter an article. In both cases, the source of information, and the person's authority to dictate this information, remains unclear. There is no credibility or tangible proof to indicate that the information is authentic.

Despite the fact that Wikipedia is well know for it's unsupported sources and unreliability, it is still one of the highest ranking websites on the Internet. It's not that that reliable sources can no longer be found, but that people no longer seem concerned to search for them, ans are placing less value in the truth and more value in the quickest, easiest way that information can be obtained. Wikipedia is essentially a shortcut for obtaining knowledge, as it offers generalized information for a specific subject in one commodious place. But finding shortcuts is not the same as doing authentic research, and does not produce the same results.

In that respect, the Internet is a useful tool for finding shortcuts. Students often refer to websites like SparkNotes and CliffsNotes in lieu of doing an in-depth comprehensive study of a book; trading quality of work for efficiency. When used as a study aid, as they were originally intended, these websites can be invaluable to reading comprehension. However, students are becoming reliant on these websites instead of actually doing the work themselves, often abandoning the book all together and losing their ability to interpret and develop their own opinions. The negative effects of relying on these kinds of websites is that it allows people to avoid thinking. When surfing the Internet, people are more likely to favor short, sporadic snippets of information on a subject rather than an in-depth study that could provide more concrete information. We are favoring generalities over the specifics. The Internet's greatest advancement is that it offers us information, yes, conveniently packaged and hand-fed to us in a way that requires little effort on our part.

I'm not an enemy of technology. My generation has embraced our technological advancements with vigor, yet we are still hungry for more. But I also believe that we should continue to preserve our older habits, or more specifically, the art of reading, which is quickly being replaced. Relying on something as unpredictable as the Internet is the same as trying to predict the weather. When compared to the sturdy reliability and silent authority of printed texts, collecting information on the Internet is, at best, a risky business. Michael Gorman, former Dean of Library Services at California State University, compares the Internet to a “Siren song,” tempting and irresistible, yet deadly. “We cannot turn away from these forces,” he asserts, “nor should we.” Yet he also expresses his bafflement towards websites such as Wikipedia, that allow a mixture of the “informed and the uninformed” to control the information we are being offered. While we must appreciate the advancements technology has made, we must still retain a respect for authenticity and “true research.”

Please don't hurt me...

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