Saturday, April 15, 2006
Avoiding the Perils of the Internet
I don't think it's an understatement to say that the Internet is as much a revolution in human communications as television, radio, or the printing press were when they were first introduced. The Internet puts the entire wealth of accumulated human knowledge at your fingertips. No previous generation had such immediate access to so much information. And the poplarity of the World Wide Web, combined with the proliferation of blogs, homepages, etc. truly makes free speech real for the entire population. In principle, anyone can publish anything they want on the Web and have it potentially be read by everyone else.
OK, that's the rosey, naive utopian vision of the Internet. The unfortunate reality is that the Internet is equal parts amazing universal knowledge database, cess pool of lies and misinformation, welcoming communities for people to find other people with similar interests, outlet for still other people to exercise their worst anti-social impulses anonymously, forum to debate and discuss important issues, and platform to spew the most vile propaganda and smear campaigns.
The truth is the fact that the Internet makes free speech real is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. You can't blindly trust every web page you visit or every email you receive. To make the most of the Internet, you have to put a bit of work into making sure the information you're getting is accurate.
So, in the interest of helping my fellow web surfers, here are some sites that I think are trustworthy and can help you avoid getting sucked into the cess pool:
- Snopes Urban Legends Reference Pages - Ever get an email with a story that's too unbelievable to be true? Well, you're probably right. Check this site to find out which stories are just urban legends, and which are based on facts.
- FactCheck.org - It's a given that all politicians lie, right? This site researches the public statements politicians make and determines what's factual, what's exaggeration, and what's just plain false. Whether you're a Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, this site doesn't play favorites. This site focuses on US politics, so it's maybe only relevant for American citizens.
- The Straight Dope - Cecil Adams answers readers' questions about a wide range of topics. He and his staff always provide background references and research so that you can verify their findings. If you have a question that no one seems to be able to answer, check here. If they don't have the answer already, you can ask them.
- How Stuff Works - We live in amazing times where technology provides us with so much convenience in our everyday lives. But we rarely take the time to understand how all these marvelous machines and tools work. This site solves that problem. Each article provides clear explanations with lots of pictures and diagrams on a variety of human technology and the workings of the universe. You don't need an advanced science or engineering degree to understand how stuff works, just plain old human curiosity.