Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Nobody Scrutinizes Information Like 1,000+ Nerds

Gathering information through internet sources was something I always did with caution. If I was looking for the answer to question, I wanted at least three separate web pages to tell me the exact same thing. If I found a single piece conflicting information, I sought to find ten more that verified the truth.

I grew up in an age when the internet did not exist as a research tool. Perhaps that makes me old school or out dated, but I am still wary to trust internet sources. This ought to put me in good shape for yelling at my kids as they reach the teenage years about what I used to do when I was their age.

“There were these things called libraries and they held stacks of paper bound together with words printed on them. They were called books and if they still existed, I’d pick one up right now and fling it at your ungrateful head so you could see how heavy they were.”

I suppose it’s a bit silly that I trusted Encyclopedia Britannica implicitly if you want to get into it. However, that’s the point. One source of information eventually shows its reliability over all others and becomes trusted to give you the truth. Then you don’t need to verify it for several obsessive hours on your own just so you can say, “See, I told you Eric Stoltz was the kid in Mask.”

That’s what Encyclopedias are. They are trusted. Again, call me old fashioned, but I find it hard to trust information that can be posted by anybody who knows how to get on the internet. If it’s something I’m able to do with ease (I’ve been posting on this blog daily for almost two months) it is obviously a bunch of hogwash and not to be taken seriously.

There is no requirement that you have any sort of expertise in order to weigh in on an issue online. If I wished, I could begin a campaign of false information that would confuse at least a few people and result in an F or two on a history paper. Granted, I would have to do it on another website that a lot of people actually read, but that’s beside the point. My point is that there seems to be no one reliable source for online information.

Or so I thought.

I started to look at Wikipedia in depth. Years ago I had dismissed it entirely. I thought a site that allows its users to edit page content has no credibility whatsoever. In my mind, it was the equivalent of a bunch of high school sophomores sitting around trying to piece together details for their history final which was in an hour and they hadn’t listened to the lectures all year. You could read Yeah, that’s it and Whatever, dude, that has to be right and Can’t we just go play some hacky-sack already? between the lines of text.

I must admit that the more I looked at it, the more reliable Wikipedia’s information seemed to be. Sure, I could throw a quick, John Doe smells like butt in the middle of an article, but how long would it remain there?

That’s what I now find to be the beauty of the site: its elaborate system of checks and balances. If something in any given article is incorrect or changes, there are millions of nerds, geeks and fanboys scouring constantly for inaccuracies.

Have you ever had a lengthy discussion with a huge nerd? Not huge in girth, I mean in nerdiness, although some may argue the two go hand in pudgy hand. Anyway, you are bound to have at least a fact per minute of discussion corrected by said nerd. They cannot help but correct that which is wrong. It’s one of the burdens that make them have so much trouble in social situations. I dare say I often find myself wanting to correct people in the middle of their sentences and have learned to suppress that urge over many years of training by my wife.

When you think about it, what better source of information is there than legions of nerds sitting in front of their computers, just waiting to tell somebody else that their information is wrong? The collective geek brainpower harnessed by Wikipedia is overpowering. False information doesn’t stand a chance. A thousand points of light are trained on each and every obscure article, each pale, clammy palm sweating in anticipation with the hopes they may be the first to find an error, be it factual or grammatical, in an article that just so happens to fall within the realm of one of their many areas of expertise. The misinformed stand no chance. The nerd of society attack mistakes with same tenacity with which they attack a foot long turkey sub and a Diet Coke.

This is why I hereby decide to save myself precious hours of my life in research and instead trust my fellow nerds to do the compulsive fact checking on my behalf. From this point on, anything that is posted on Wikipedia shall be considered by me as absolute truth.

And I see it says here that I smell like butt. No arguing there. Off to the shower for me.

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