When I was a boy, people thought differently than they do today. I believe they were more inquisitive and discerning, never tending to accept things at face value; looking for underlying meanings and truths in what was read or spoken. They tended to shun rumor-mongerers and take that ‘information’ with a healthy dose of salt.
These days, I find people very accepting of their sources, printed or otherwise, without ever inquiring into reliability or bias of said source. In the past, we all relied on written reference materials, trusting that publishers were doing a good job of weeding out the garbage.
Today, if someone has a question about anything at all, they run to the internet and Google it. With that action, an enormous quantity of addresses appear, leading to pages of varying reliability, most of which have reached the highest echelons of the list through the force of market pushes and pulls. Now, the reader has to do the weeding. He may or may not have enough expertise in the subject matter to know the difference between an accurate or inaccurate source. In fact, the reason that he is there, is usually because he lacks this expertise. The colossal chunk of HTML that most people rely on for basic information is publicly edited by the user community. Errors and omissions abound, and the managers of this source rely on the diligence of those who have taken the trouble to sign-up and become an editor to make changes and additions where they are needed. If one is in the middle of a project and finds such an error, is he going to stop and take the time to make the change? Most likely he will put it on his well-meaning list of things to do. Many times one may detect an error or non-objective bias in an entry, but he doesn’t have the expertise to make the appropriate complete correction to right the wrong.
The concept of open source code may work for computer programs but I don’t think it works quite as well for information. In medieval times, it was not unlikely for someone with expertise to make a marginal note in a library book with lead pencil. It may have been a correction or just a note of reference, but the body of the text was sacred and not altered. Until very recently, folks still did it. As long as it’s in pencil, it’s no great sin and can be quite informative. I have often thanked the anonymous scribbler, in years gone by, for some interesting or enlightening tidbit. I never noticed, however, a missing page with new material inserted.
The printed hulks of encyclopedia we readers loved as children are now mostly a memory, but for the most part, we could depend on them. Feel free to make appropriate changes to this blog entry as suits your needs.