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Information isn't like iron or bronze, nor is the age

August 4, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
As the people sang “In Every Age” in church this morning, a thought popped into my head that had something, and maybe nothing to do with the belief that God has been there for every age of man.

It has to do with this whole “information era” or whatever we’re calling it that we live in.

When we were in the Bronze Age or the Iron Age, there was a tangible way to determine if the product was good or bad, if the iron or bronze craftsmen had produced something lasting or something to be cast back into the smelter and made again.

With information, the “tangible” is in our head. We have to decide if something is real or fake, true or exaggerated, a hoax or a nugget of truth. Problem is that truth, actual facts, shouldn’t be subjective. Either something is or it’s not. The old “if it walks like a duck” thing really should apply.

Except people don’t know ducks even when they walk up and quack in their face. And that's without even taking into account any training to try to avoid individual bias in repeating a story. (Really, they used to teach us reporter and journalist types that kind of stuff — in another age.)

Case in point: The endless stream of heartstring-tugging crapola on Facebook. I’m not talking about the pictures of my vacation or your kid or grandkid, and not even the worthless piles of philosophy accompanied by bad line art.

I’m talking about the stuff that makes good folks feel like they’re donating to something worthy just by hitting the “like” button, as if that action fulfills their altruistic aims for the day.

There have been variations on this theme, but generally it follows the thing I saw the other day. There will be some shocking photo of a child in distress. In the latest one, it was an indescribably horrifying picture — possibly Photoshopped — of an infant with his head barely swaddled in a bandage,an eye bugging out of his head, and obvious skull and brain trauma under the bandages. The accompanying heartstring tugging paragraph tells us that this awful specter is the result of some accident and that his parents can’t pay the medical bills but Facebook, and in this hoaxified case, CNN, would pay a certain amount based on the amount of “likes” that were clicked.

Now, No. 1, don’t you think you’d have heard about this, say, on CNN? And second, Facebook making donations? Really? Certainly not in the case of any individual family, and, frankly, the only charity I thought it stood for is young Mr. Zuckerberg’s pockets.

Second, there was no mention of how long these “likes” were going to be received.

And last, nowhere on the web is there the tale of this kid or this heartwarming action by CNN. Or Facebook.

It’s a hoax. I don’t get the purpose because it doesn’t seem to be phishing our our personal info. At best, it is the Internet equivalent of looking at circus sideshow freaks or accident victim photos.

Information, like iron or bronze, has a value, but only if it’s good. And unlike bad iron or bad bronze, we can spread the bad stuff just by repeating, “sharing” or e-mailing it.

Many blame us media traditionalists for not regurgitating every sensational word we hear until we verify it, maybe two or three times, and you can see the results that occur when the media fails to take that deep breath and verify before blurting out a tale in the name of being first. Of course, that leads to more criticism of the media.

In an age where information dissemination is a button push or a screen click away, everyone must become better consumers of information, lest we spread the worthless and the lie until it cannot be put back or set right. Unlike iron or bronze that can just be cast back into the smelter, information is like cutting the head off a hydra. It just multiplies.

Information bypasses us media gatekeeper types easily and regularly now, but there was a reason for us to do what we were doing since the first newspaper article was published ages ago.


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