Facebook, Google, Twitter: Can you live without them?

Today, a colleague and I were discussing the current state of affairs along the lines of Twitter, and social media like Facebook. We both agree that there seems to be a disturbing trend in society to be less interested in facts, and more interested in sensationalism. This trend is not new, nor is noticing it or being concerned about it.

However, I believe the trend is increasing at a frightening pace. The conversation steered towards the perception that twitter and others, are providing a flood of nonsense to an eager public. Just a few years ago, the daily habits of stars and politicians were not considered news, and relegated to the grocery rack tabloids. Now, people can get their news and facts straight from the President himself via a quick “tweet” or Facebook post. So now, you have a public that is literally saturated in communications, from work, from friends, from family, from advertisers, and from world leaders; all at the simple touch of a button.

On the surface, it might not seem any different than fireside chats or public television addresses; yet there is evidence that people treat what they receive from a monitor or computer display differently; couples who drive into lakes because their gps tells them to for example. The people’s filters on what facts are presented to them seem to be eroded to the point of near non-existence. You might say to yourself, “I don’t just accept what I see or hear, I check the facts out.” Skeptically, I would ask “Did you use Google?” What would you do without Google? If the President said in a tweet, “We must stop using fossil fuels by Friday because the world’s supply has just run out.”; would you believe him? If not, how would you know if he was lying or not? I know it sounds a little too “tin foil hat” to contemplate, but what facts do you know independent of your ability to find them on the Internet?

I have seen several stories about libraries closing due to lack of funding, and it makes me wonder who will be the next public repository of knowledge? In times past, to get a book of science published, a person would need to study for years on end, pass a pier review, and then get a sponsor or raise several thousand dollars to get to publication. Afterwards, the book would be used as a reference, a source, for later works to be based on. If I told you that water was made of hydrogen and oxygen, you could verify it with printed, vetted, explained research. Now, you just go to a “wiki” and look and see some Phd in type on a website that verifies “the facts”. I find fewer and fewer people want to visit libraries, or read actual printed pages, or look up old newspaper articles as they were printed. Instead, you can download a digital book, subscribe to old newspaper postings, and get tweets straight from the horse’s mouth. So what happens when the digital is altered, or erased? What happens when the power fails? What happens when a government who thinks that it is in the public’s best interest to suspend or control all internet communications during a “civil emergency”?

I know, I’m going back to the tin foil arena again, but if you think it can’t happen there are those who will make sure it does. What would you do without Google? Ask the Chinese. Remember, you can’t miss what you don’t see. You think governments don’t want to control the internet or maybe your text messages, ask Saudi Arabia why they want exclusive access to Blackberry’s servers for any transmissions into and out of the country. Sometime this week, do yourself a favor and look up a fact without using Google, or a computer. Learn something completely new without taking someone else’s word for it. Go to a used book store, or public library, or news paper company and ask for information regarding any of today’s topics from the latest headlines about poverty, war, environmental concerns, politics, etc. Then tell me I’m being too paranoid and that having all the knowledge in the world as a digital archive is just as secure and unchangeable as print.

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