Tech, Web

How the Internet Changed Information Access

fake-news-long-history-beware-state-involvement

It is hard to imagine for those of us who have grown up with the internet, but before the advent of this civilization-changing technology, the way that most people accessed information was very different, and far more time-consuming.

In the pre-internet era, it was necessary for every American home to keep its own encyclopedias and other reference books – on everything from child-rearing to auto repair. For major projects, and most schoolwork, the only way to get the information you needed was to take a trip to the local library and rely on the Dewey Decimal System and an efficient librarian to enable you to find the books that might be able to help.

Even then, the process of getting hold of the information you needed was often a hit-and-miss business, limited by the range of available books and by the quality of the information contained in those books. Accuracy was a particular problem as the information in many books could be out of date just a few years after publication.

History of Access To Information

How has the speed of information now vs 100 years ago affected the Earth
How has the speed of information now vs. 100 years ago affected the Earth?

When it came to general information, such as the latest news, people had to rely on the established print media and the Big Three television networks. Finding out information for yourself was time-consuming and, in some cases, impossible, unless you had significant resources at your disposal.

However, the internet has revolutionized the way that we access information, removing many of the traditional barriers overnight. The internet has enabled us to access millions of information sites set up by organizations, individuals and others, and the rapid growth of cable networks means that it is possible for us to access an enormous range of information sources, all at the push of a few buttons or the click of a mouse.

The internet has taken all of the frustration and delay out of the process of accessing information. If you need to know a historical fact, then you can find it in seconds. If you want to read a transcript of a political speech or find out what is going on in Russia or India or your local town, then you can, quickly and easily.

Thanks to the internet, people can also share vital information in every field of study. Scientists and researchers can access the latest research online. For example, leading oncologist Mikhail Blagosklonny is able to share his findings and liaise with medical colleagues around the world, which ensures that the latest medical advances and discoveries can be quickly disseminated, to the advantage of patients all over the world.

However, while the internet has provided many positives when it comes to accessing information, there has been a downside to the cyber revolution.

When it came to news, traditional sources such as print media and major news networks provided a useful service. Information was sorted, prioritized and cross-checked before it was presented to the public. However, that “filter” has largely disappeared. Now, those interested in what is going on in the world are bombarded with an avalanche of facts, opinions, conspiracy theories and outright lies, and we are left to sort the wheat from the chaff ourselves.

Era of Fake News

fake-news-long-history-beware-state-involvement
Fake news has a long history. Beware the state being keeper of ‘the truth’

Those without the time or the skills to cross-check information or scrutinize it carefully are therefore more susceptible than ever to propaganda, misleading information and wild speculation. A simple internet search can throw up thousands upon thousands of sources. Which can you trust? Which is the truth? The result can often be that people retreat into a “bubble” and seek out information that confirms their pre-existing ideas.

This can have dangerous consequences for society, causing erosion in the idea that there is such a thing as “facts” and ultimately degrading the value of information itself.

While the availability of information on the internet is growing exponentially, it is paradoxically getting harder to find what you need, particularly if the information you are looking for is of a complex or specialized nature. Search engines are operated by algorithms, but an algorithm can only throw up a list of potential sources of information in response to certain prompts. For an intelligent, in-depth response, human involvement is required.

It may be that we are in a transitional phase. In years to come, those individuals and companies that provide search facilities will have to come up with more effective methods of connecting people with information, to ensure that useful and valuable information is not overwhelmed by “fake news” and to push forward the internet information revolution to the next stage.

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