Thursday, November 09, 2006

Cynacism, smarts and democracy

The Book Meadow
First of all: "WOO HOO!!!". The dems won the house, most probably the senate (that is if George Allen will just concede already like a normal person and if Joe Liberman actually remains a democrat in name if not in deed).

But today I am thinking about how information works, both in a democracy and on the internet.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all about web 2.0 apps.

I love Flickr;

I have a Second Life avitar who is considerably more attractive than I am in my first life;

I am addicted to my bloglines account, watch youtube, and love wikipedia.

BUT I was just reading this article by Nicholas Lemann from the New Yorker called Amateur Hour.

And while the New Yorker is soooo old school media and the article is so three months ago I am trying to work on ideas for a class that I am teaching today about how to evaluate information on the web.

So, in addition to the million thoughts that came to my mind, you see I am such a quick thinker (insert sarcastic emoticon here), and I'm so hip (ibid) I even have my own blog... I did a little experiment.

I checked the front pages of three well known news outlets/aggregators and here is what I came up with:

The New York Times
Oh My News

Now we know about the NY Times. Stuffy journalists, old school media, The Gray Lady

Ok, so who or what is Oh My News? Well according to it's Oh My News About Us page there's a President and CEO, a Senior Editor, a U.S. editor and untold numbers of citizen reports who work by a code of ethics.

So they're similar to actual reporters or journalists except they don't get paid and they may or may not be trained journalists.

So this is democracy, you don't have to go to school for it or get paid for it. But you still have to submit to "editorial authority". And unlike
an actual reporter you have no recourse to challenge the editorial authority. Pretty democratic.

Finally, let's take a look at This is how describes itself: "Digg is all about user powered content. Every article on digg is submitted and voted on by the digg community. Share, discover, bookmark, and promote the news that's important to you!"

What's on today? The day after a major election, a change of power in our government and the dumping of the defense secretary... Well, let's see. Hmmm... South Park - Cartman continues his quest for the Nintendo Wii. The future of gaming. Interesting...

But the thing that makes me most uncomfortable is that when I first looked this morning the first article I found referring to the elections was a link to a video from youtube satirizing mid-term elections from Jon Stewart. Which, don't get me wrong, is funny. However, slightly inaccurate considering the mid term elections this time were incredibly important, hotly contested and swept out many, many incumbents. So, if you were to get your news only from what conclusions would you draw about what's going on in the world?

Seeing as we're getting our information from so many different sources, how can we make informed decisions about what we read?

Here are two ideas:

1. Get your news from a few different trusted news sources. Given the number of news sources, this can be overwhelming so I use a news reader or aggrigator to put it all in one place. See: my bloglines account


2. Apply consistent criteria to all information. How do we do this? Well I'm gonna show you...

So, what's my conclusion about all of this? Sure there's great new media-- I'm all jigg-y (insert old person using new slang emoticon here) with great new media-- slashdot and youtube, and great old media (I love the NYTimes book review section no matter how pretentious! And there is also old crap and newer crap. The only thing that can help you filter all of this information is by using your smarts, keeping an open mind and applying consistent standards to all information no matter how you ingest it!

My next post-- truthiness.

I do hope Cartman gets his wii....

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