I was not a real believer in the internet to start with. Some of my early adopter friends thought that three-paragraph encyclopedia articles were terrific; I thought they were pathetic. Now you can look at this in several ways. One that my expectations were too high, or two that theirs were too low. Luckily within a few years, we were both proven wrong, and a massive amount of content is available. Or is it?
Researching on the worldwide web can easily overwhelm you. So much is available. But it’s still easy to reach the edges of the maps, and run into freaky misinformation you know is unreliable. You can be misled by what is available – a confirmation bias if you believe that the web is reliable.
A close friend asked me why I kept such an extensive maritime research library. A wall full of reference texts, photos, and some plans. My response was that lots of this were not available online. She was incredulous, ” you can find everything online, Lou.” She referred to some of the many obscure texts she used online to research. I pointed out that some of what she mentioned were behind very steep pay-walls. And not all areas of knowledge seemed to be equally well served for digital transcriptions and scans.
To summarize, not all areas of the internet get equal service. And as I stated at the outset, you can either have too low or too high expectations.
If you’ve ever taught, you know the frustration of explaining to a student the issues involved in conducting all your research on Wikipedia. For most general topics, it’s adequate as long as you are wary of misinformation and bias. But the more you dig, the more the edges of the maps appear.
If you don’t believe me take some topic you know well and start digging. Look carefully for the seams, edges, and misinformation. Luckily, dedicated individuals love finding these gaps and filling them in. Sometimes it’s in really esoteric areas. For example, the other day, I located a closed Facebook group dedicated to the floorplans of cruise liners. Who’d want a plan from a 1932 liner? Maybe me as part of a planned ship portrait. They are wearing the halo this week for the most useful new find on Facebook.
It’s going to be long before that wall of books, pictures, and plans become obsolete. Still, the internet has finally come to fulfill a new purpose as it grows: providing access to information not contained in that professional library.