Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Another Pitfall of the Open Source Approach

This is my one hundredth blog at this site--a milestone of sorts.

Yasmine commented on last night's blog: Maya, this morning as usual, my husband was listening to sports talk radio and one of the host was complaining about Wikipedia and how he ended up in it and how the description of him kept changing on a daily basis. His partner, a former football player, was also listed.

One of the things about the open source approach that has strongly attracted me is that it gives voice to people who have not previously had a voice.

Historically, the loudest voices have belonged to those who published newspapers or, in more modern times, owned radio and television stations. They could decide which stories to run and which stories to ignore. More recently, some newspapers and other media outlets have moved from news reporting to news slanting. On 11/10, I blogged about cancelling my daily newspaper after being a long-time subscriber because of my dissatisfaction with the subtle and increasingly not-so-subtle slanting of the news.

Of course, others have always tried to make themselves heard. In colonial America, we had the pamphleteers such as Thomas Paine who distributed pamphlets that expressed their political opinions. Practically, however, those efforts were limited to the pamphleteers' ability to print and distribute the brochures.

Today we have blogs and podcasts which anyone can create, giving them a voice that can be heard around the world. The power of the blogosphere was first seen three years ago this week. Trent Lott's racist statements in support of Strom Thurmond at Thurmond's 100th birthday party were largely ignored by the traditional media. It was a blogger who called attention to Lott and his previous history of racism. Other bloggers picked up the story and kept it alive until big media began to cover it. Lott, the Senate Minority Leader, was forced to resign in shame.

While I applaud this new democracy giving voice to everyone, I understand that it also is incumbent upon us to become more critical readers/listeners. Just because something appears in a blog or on a podcast or on a website such as Wikipedia, does NOT make it true. We need to learn to separate opinion from fact. The most recent example of this is the debate between evolution and intelligent design.

A good friend of mine teaches freshman college English. She spends a good part of the section on writing a thesis teaching her students how to discern good source material from bad source material. Even so, every semester, she ends up having to fail students who--ignoring her instructions--try to hand in papers filled with inappropriate references.

I hope our elementary schools will begin to include a curriculum on critical thinking. The downside of so many "voices" is the need to differentiate among them.

Thanks, Yasmine, for the comment that prompted this blog.

Happy Birthday to my friend, Carleen. Best wishes for a successful, happy and healthy year to come.


Sloane Taylor said...

Maya, your blog with all the perfect information you provide never ceases to amaze me.

Obviously I live under a rock because I never knew one-tenth of what you have given us.

Please keep up the good work.

Maya said...

Sloane: Thank you; you're very kind.

As I've said before, I'm a research whore. If I could write humor the way you do, I'd be writing chick lit.