What Is the Past Tense of "Read?"

As we all know, I love to read.

Reading books used to be my favorite pass time. Now I find that I spend more time - as do most of us - on the Internet. And I often find it to be a waste of time.

"Google it" used to be a punch-line. As if a Google search was a reliable source of information. "I found it on the Intertubes, it must be true!" That line was considered a joke. Now, sadly, it's taken seriously.

In this sorry election cycle, as I watch inflamed Internet Warriors hurling insults and "proof" at one another, I can only feel sad, and not a little frightened, that this Guttenberg of the digital age has proven to be so dangerous to our collective brain.

Yes, it is wonderful to be able to find the name of the actor who played the best friend in such-and-such a movie (though it makes us rely less and less on our own recall when the information is so handy using our cell phones); yes, it's great to be able to turn on an app that will guide us turn by turn to our destination (though I miss real maps, pouring over them for a particular route, and then relying on my own brain to store the turns); sure, it's interesting to follow a thread of information with a few clicks rather than hefting books off a library shelf and then digging through them for what I'm trying to find out.

But there are two major reasons why this "gift of fire," The Internet, could prove deadly to your mind:
 - first, a thing called "Confirmation Bias,"
- second, the sources themselves

Let's take confirmation bias first. This is simply the human tendency to look for information that "confirms" what we already believe. These days, this kind of highly skewed data is readily available on the Internet. The first thing I do when checking any nugget of information is try to learn where it came from. If the source is "OccupyDemocrat," or "BearingArms," I can be fairly sure the source will have an agenda, and I need to take what I learn with some salt.

This simply means that I hunt for as much information as I can find, try to locate original data (though as we all know, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics), and then interpolate what is probably "true." Or at least, reasonable to assume. Once upon a time, there was journalism, and there was "yellow journalism," or salacious and gossipy information from "a source close to the story." Now most of it is the latter - and even institutions of erstwhile merit - like the New York Times - have been found wanting.

Then, there are the sources themselves. We've already dealt with the fact that most Internet publications have a bias or agenda - one of them, of course, is to get "clicks." Hence, the "clickbait" titles on sidebar articles: "He Thought He Knew His Wife - Til He Saw This One Thing!"

But more to the point, even when an article is a genuine piece of journalism: it's too easy. It takes a lot of work and time to write a book, particularly a scholarly one. Original research, in depth analysis, long hours and many revisions. The writer was - had to be - invested in the product.

Now when a "reporter" has to churn out article after article without leaving his desk - who has time for phone calls, or visiting the location of an event, or asking people on-site at an event, or reading carefully foot-noted books with huge bibliographies to get a foundation in the subject? Rummage through a few Internet sources, maybe make a phone call, grab an image off the web (without even really examining it for the possibility of its being Photoshopped), and then write a piece that's mostly opinion.

I used to make a habit of looking for confirmation of especially those "memes" that people are so fond of passing around, even when they confirmed my own bias. I've reached a point of "why bother?".

I think I'll visit my local library soon - and "take out" a few books, and then read them carefully and slowly and thoughtfully. I'll let you know how my experiment turns out.


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