I work in the post-secondary education field. Uh-uh-uh, not telling you where I work, just that part of my job involves me trying to convince students to not use Google or Wikipedia for the bulk of their research and to tout the benefits of using our own online library with its access to newspapers, journals, magazines, online books, and online reference sources.
Twenty years ago (SOB!) when I was doing research in school, we had only printed sources to find. We pulled musty cards from wooden card catalog drawers and lost our religion trying to feed a microfilm machine — where the strip was ALWAYS upside down and backwards on the first try. Plus, we walked to class in the snow… uphill… both ways. During those days, someone went behind these writers and edited and fact-checked their articles before shipping them off to the presses.
My first semester in grad school, I sat in a computer lab with the professors I worked for as a grad assistant and their classes while one of the tech guys talked us through some crazy convoluted set up I never used for writing any of my papers. A little over a year later when I bought my first personal computer (a Mac Performa 6116!), I realized that guy had showed us how to set up an email account.
Hold on while I go take my dementia meds…
Anyhoo, today there’s no microfilm to fight and no musty cards to stink up the library. You can do all your research at your computer if you choose. And did you know that Word will format your bibliography for you? Gah! The hours I spent pouring over the MLA handbook and agonizing about how to arrange a bibliography entry!
The trade off, however, is the danger of unreliable information. It’s all over the place, and I’m not just talking about FoxNews (pause for laughter… or eyeroll). Google or Bing (as one student told me was “in” and Google was “out”) make it easy to find information, but people don’t take the time to find out if it’s true.
In the past couple of weeks, I’ve realized that not just the students need to learn to check their sources — ALL of us do.
We complain about the media, (I really wanna slap the person who came up with “lamestream media” because I am SICK. TO. DEATH. of hearing it.) but then we turn around and share every outlandish story or urban legend we see on Facebook. Some days I really consider deleting my account because I believe Zuckerberg and his cohorts have created something that has dumbed us down by dozens of IQ points.
During the holidays last year, a story circulated about Ben Stein talking about how he doesn’t get offended if someone wishes him merry Christmas. That part sounded perfectly plausible. Then it unraveled into this piece about how God is abandoning us because we said we didn’t want him in our lives, and it made a point to mention that a woman who complained about having prayer in schools was murdered. Then he supposedly said another problem was that we listened to Dr. Spock when he said we shouldn’t spank our children while also mentioning that Dr. Spock’s son committed suicide.
As I read the story, I felt my face contorting into an expression I usually get when I realize the dog has taken a shit. Was he actually saying that this woman and Dr. Spock deserved these horrible fates because they wanted or advised things we don’t agree with?
I did my own search, and I do admit to using Google, but I wasn’t doing a research paper. Lo and behold, the story was only partially true. (Here’s the link. Yes, it’s Snopes.com, and some people make their arguments against them, but I’m sure you can find the debunking facts somewhere else.) The first part of the story — which had sounded plausible — was true, and the author had apparently taken it from a CBS News interview. The rest — which included a false fact about Dr. Spock’s son, who did not commit suicide — was part of a statement from Billy Graham’s daughter from 2001 that the author sprinkled with his or her own beliefs.
When I saw this on a friend’s Facebook page, I politely said, “Hey, this isn’t quite true” and posted the link to the debunker. She expressed her appreciation for the info, but one of her friends commented, “I don’t care if it’s true or not. I’m sharing it on my page because it’s awesome.”
Sometimes I shake my head at idiocities, (atrocities performed by idiots… I just made that up. Boom.) but if you had seen me at that moment, you would have ran to my side, laid me out on the floor, and tried to put something in my mouth so I didn’t swallow my tongue — because I was in full-on seizure mode and had Kyle’s mom’s “What? What? WHAT?!” from Southpark on repeat.
The sheer lack of regard for telling the truth left me utterly appalled. I mean, it’s completely irresponsible to take that nugget of mainly falsehoods and spread it around to the masses as an accurate account all because you agreed with the opinions. Yet you probably love to jump on the media and accuse them of being biased. How are we supposed to hold the media to a higher standard if we’re not willing to do it ourselves?
The Husband tells me I’m wasting my energy by correcting people who post inaccurate stories, but I can’t help it. I’d rather keep a little personal delusion of my own that a chain of debunking links will spread so that perhaps some responsible people will stop passing along these inaccuracies and do a little research first — old school, new school, just look it up!