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Blog Post #9: Evaluating Quality of Information

Over the course of the semester, we have learned to use internet search engines alongside more traditional tools like the library catalog to locate relevant information. Arguably, one of the most important contributions Google has made to date is its "Google Books" project that has digitized millions of books and rendered them full-text searchable. As Howard Rheingold points out in the first Chapter of NetSmart, however, critics of the web and how we use it, critics such as Nicholas Carr, argue that the internet is "making us stupid," degrading the quality of our memories and our ability to recall, retain, and use information.

Rheingold himself, though, takes a less pessimistic stance. He argues that it's not the internet itself, but rather the way we tend to use the technology that is contributing to the intellectual decline Carr has observed:

Again, I reject the simple deterministic answer that the machine's affordances inevitably control the way we use the mechanism. Shallow inquiry--the unformed way in which many people use search engines to find answers--is the deeper problem, and one that can be remedied culturally. Just as the ancient arts of rhetoric taught citizens how to construct and weigh arguments, a mindful rhetoric of digital search would concentrate attention on the process of inquiry--the kinds of questions people turn into initial search queries, and the kinds of further questions that can deepen their search (53).

According to Rheingold, "finding what you really need to know and knowing how to sort the good from the bad info are complementary (and essential) skills in today's infosphere." So Rheingold emphasizes the responsibility we all have as readers to sift through the information we encounter on the web in order to sort reliable from unreliable, high quality from low quality sources. This is one part of what Rheingold has called "mindfulness." Another important aspect of mindfulness is being aware of what you are contributing to the information tsunami; this aspect of mindfulness focuses on our responsibility as authors to ensure that the content we are generating is ethical and credible.

"Weapons of Mass Distraction" by birgerking on Flickr.

What do you think about Rheingold's argument? Is it possible to train ourselves to be more mindful by "paying attention to attention"? Is it possible to sort bad information from good, and what knowledge from this class might help in that process? What do you think of the argument that you have a responsibility as an internet user to help ensure or maintain the quality of information that circulates on the web? What are some of the strategies you use to filter information, prevent distraction, and manage your attention?

Posting: Group 2

Commenting: Group 3

Taking a Break: Group 1

Category: "Evaluating Quality of Information"

Re-read Chapter 1 of NetSmart, and take some time to do some research of your own on the web. Then, in your Blog #9 post, take a position that attempts to answer the questions presented in this prompt. Remember, rather than simply answering a series of questions in order, use the questions as a starting point for constructing a brief essay organized around your own thesis about attention, technology, and how the internet is affecting our thinking and learning. Please carefully read and follow the guidelines and posting information for this blog.

Image Credit: "Amidst Distractions" by Simply CVR on Flickr.

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