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Too Much Information

The internet has changed the way we access information, no doubt about it. In school, I had to rely on the library, on encyclopaedias that I possessed for information. It was a long and arduous task, looking up indices, and hoping that the keywords within would lead me to what I sought.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, I got internet access around the same time my demand for information increased. It was not necessary to store too many of those heavy books any more, I could just access the internet for any information I needed. However, slow internet speeds still forced me to rely, for most of the time, on an encyclopaedia that I had on a CD-ROM.

The amount of information on that single CD-ROM amazed me at the time. The encyclopaedia had over 70,000 pages, video, music and much more. The internet, however, contained much more information than I could have ever stored in my house. While my copies of encyclopaedias grew out-dated, forcing me to buy newer copies, Wikipedia came up, and I had a website like any other encyclopaedia, containing far more articles than all of them combined, which always grew, and is growing even as I write this post.

The internet meant a lot of things. It meant that I was no longer restricted to what I knew. If I wanted information on any topic of which I had no prior knowledge, the internet would provide it to me. While the same thing could be achieved in a library, the internet, and computers in general greatly reduced the time taken for any of us to search for information. We moved away from individual knowledge to a collective pool of knowledge, owned by humankind. It promised to shrink the world, just as the telegraph had done a century ago.

Then came the social networks. I must confess, they held no charm for me while I was in school. I abhorred the meaningless blabber which my classmates engaged in, on the social websites. Lots of back-biting, cheap humour and profanity is how I viewed these websites. However, when I left school, the desire to remain in touch with all my classmates finally led to me joining that which I disliked. Even so, I refrained from any major interactions on the social network, just looking around for a meaningful update here and there, which would let me know what my classmates were up to.

Yet, the very nature of the internet would lead to its downfall. For the internet is open, and anyone can publish on the internet that which he or she chooses. The very concept of a collectively shared pool of knowledge collapses when we consider the fact that anyone can twist or change the knowledge in the pool so as to make it appear what it is not. Gobbledygook aside, what I mean is that we can no longer trust the information on the internet, and this is becoming apparent as the internet continues to grow.

If you're still looking for the meta element in this post, here it is. This post arose from views posted on Nishant's blog. With social networks, recommended items on Google reader, I, and all of us, are flooded with information, too much of it. How do we comprehend this information, and more importantly, how do we ever trust that what we are reading.

Wikipedia relies on the fact that irregularities in its articles will be corrected by good Samaritans, when people knowledgeable in their respective fields would take some time to enrich the encyclopaedia with its knowledge. However, as time has shown, that is not the case, rather, articles on Wikipedia tend to be heavily biased, and often incomplete. This is because of a huge gap within the people who know, and the distrust of the people who don't. This is true especially in topics on genetic engineering, cloning and similar, though the bias extends to other categories too. Just as an example, one person found that his date of birth was wrongly quoted in a heavily biased article on Wikipedia, and he corrected it. However, the next day, he observed that zealots who protested his work on genetic engineering had reverted the date to the incorrect one. Again, as I write this, I know that I have not cited any reference for this information, and hence I would advise you to not trust it. Of course I have read this in another article in a magazine some time back.

Just to illustrate my point about ignorance leading to extremely biased and sometimes ridiculous views, have a look at this video:

However, the unreliability of information on the internet is not the only thing that bothers me. What bothers me is that in the digital world, we are bombarded with too much information. Consider this: if you have reached this part of the blog, why are you reading? Is this information really necessary? Is it because you find my writing interesting? Is it because you're my friend and I've shared a link to this post on a social networking site?

What with Facebook, Google+, twitter, Google Reader, StumbleUpon we have access to any amount of irrelevant information for whenever we wish to procrastinate, or just kill time. The question is: how much of this information do we really need? If you've read Nishant's post, he says that he is afraid of missing on some important information in all the clutter. My concerns are similar, but I'm afraid of all the clutter that exists out there, and the ease of losing oneself in the mess.

Why the video of the girl, you may ask? Someone shared it, and I wasted a minute watching it. My religious views have got nothing to do with me sharing the video. But where does this stop? Where do I draw the line, that this is too much, I'm not wasting my time any further reading up meaningless babbles on the internet? How do I separate the grain from the chaff? If you are still reading this article, you need to ask yourself this question.

This point was driven home when I tried to watch an instructional video. The duration was around two hours, and a quick one-minute review showed me that the instructor would go on talking as if I had nothing better to do in the world other than listen to him. I hit Ctrl+W. In the world of the internet, if you want to be heard, be succinct yet informative. That is the only way to gather an audience. A fact I've understood, but am yet to learn.

As always, feel free to leave your comments below. Yes, I go through each of them (they are so few, I have all the time to read and respond); comments are a good way to open a discussion.

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