16 December 2010

Things the Internet Has Killed (Part 3)

If you didn't see the first two posts in this series, they are here-

  Part 1
  Part 2

We are now to the next set, which includes vacations, privacy, and facts.

Vacations-  How in the world has the internet killed vacations?  Well, primarily by our own addiction to it.  It kills vacation by our staying in constant contact with it, whether that be email or just casual surfing, FB, or whatever.

I remember taking my laptop on vacation with me many times in the past.  I would spend quite a bit of time on it to the detriment of time spent with my family.  Then I started leaving it at home.  I got much more family time, but ended up with free time and nothing to do when the others were doing their own things (wife shopping, kids napping, etc.).  So I finally decided to go ahead and take the thing along, but to turn off the wi-fi connection.  It works.  Now, I can work on stuff (like my Sunday school lessons), read (I have Logos 4 installed, which includes a couple thousand books), or just organize my disorganized photos and files, if I have down time.  But since the wi-fi is not hooked up, I don't get bogged down in FB or with email.

Bottom line here is, it's really up to you, not the existence of the web, as to whether your vacation is ruined or not.

Privacy- This is the 'scary' one of the bunch, and one that we seem to have less control over than we'd like, or think.  The only real control we have is to not participate in the internet at all.  Even then, there will still be information about us on the web.  Have you ever typed your name into a Google (or other) search box and hit the enter key?  Try it...you'll be surprised at how much information is out there about you, and at how many people share your name (even if you have one of those 'unique' names, chances are its not unique).

The people that share your name are actually more of a problem than you might think.  How much of that information do you think gets associated with you by mistake?  And how hard is it to fix these false associations when you find them?  What if one of these people is a criminal?  In this culture, when everybody wants to be interconnected with all the information obtained by others (see the 9-11 Report if you need evidence), chances are pretty good that you have false information about you or connected to you floating around on the internet.

Now this, just in- a group of popular web sites has been harvesting your browser history to see if they can target  you with ads.  This 'history snooping' isn't new, but is just recently made the headlines.  Its just another example of how you have to not participate to save your privacy.

Facts-  This one cuts two directions.  First the good part:  facts are a lot easier to find with the ubiquity of the internet.  Even 20 years ago when I was a grad student, finding much information about much of anything required a trip to the library.  A couple hours in a card catalog, or searching on the terminals (after about 1990), yielded quite a few connections...all of which had to be physically found in the stacks, as they were called.  (I suppose they are still there, and still called, the stacks, but I bet its a lonely place these days.)  Now, if you need to know something, you type it into a Google box.  As one person (name forgotten) recently quipped, "In the past, if you needed to know something, you asked a smart person.  Now, the person you ask starts with G-O, and its not God."

But there's the rub...now, to find the information you need, and know it is legitimate information, you need to know more about the subject, or at least something about the sources, that you find.  And one problem I never had with a card catalog was getting two hundred thousand hits for a two-word title or phrase.  How are we to ever know if we are finding the right resources when we only skim through a few pages of the three thousand pages listed?

There's always the pages like Snopes.com, where we can check facts.  But who's checking the fact-checkers?  I remember one of those internet myth emails going around a couple years ago about Snopes being a liberal watch-dog site that was biased against conservatives.  I have no idea if it is or not, but you can bet that you won't find an entry at Snopes.com about it!  (Oh, come on...think about it...if it is true they are a liberal plant, they won't have an article confirming that they are a liberal plant...if they are not a liberal plant, they won't have an article confirming that they are a liberal plant).  I hear there are at least a dozen fact-checker sites now...but I'm not familiar with any of them.  And word is there are more starting up all the time.  But again, how do you know if the one or three fact-checker sites you consult are bias-free?

On with the show in a few days.

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