Reading on the Internet – Good, Bad?

Reading on the Internet has its ups and downs. In this piece I will first go through some of my favourite aspects before I dig into the things that bother me.

Positive Qualities

Searching Power

It is easy to find information on topics that I know I am interested in. If I know what I am looking for, I can generally find it. The only problem sometimes is one of wording or word choice. For instance, in a recent example with my friends, we were looking for a specific topic using the search terms “loss of forests” rather than “deforestation”. Until we looked for the latter, we were floundering.

Skimmable

Internet material is often very easy to skim so that you can pick out the useful facts and ideas. Many people who write for the Internet realize that their readers are not likely to read every word.

Speed

News on the Internet is astonishingly fast and interconnected. I can learn more from the Internet in the same amount of time than I can from either Radio or Television.

Levels of Depth

You can read the Internet at many levels of depth. For instance, if you are reading the Google News headlines, they will give you a snapshot of some of the major events that are going on in the world.

Want to learn a bit more? Open up the major news items and read them. If your thirst for knowledge goes deeper yet, it is time to start following more links and searching for related terms. You can tailor your information gathering to both your level of interest and the time you have available.

Dialog

On the Internet, you can end up in a direct discussion with the creator(s) of the content that you are consuming. Unlike most other mediums, on the Internet it is often possible to directly engage the author of a piece of information. No other medium has such vast powers for connection and discussion.

Dangers

Confirmation Bias

You tend to find what you are looking for. This can contribute to the confirmation bias, the natural tendency of people to feel that information that agrees with their preconceptions is somehow more trustworthy than the information presenting the opposite side.

The Well-Informed Illusion

The speed of reading and the brevity of writing on the Internet can lead to an illusion of deep understanding. Many people fall prey to the often mistaken conception of themselves as well-read because they keep up-to-date with Google News or a social bookmarking site such as RedditSlashdot, or Digg.

While Google News provides an overview of some world issues, the social bookmarking sites generally highlight sensational, inflammatory, and opinionated works of note on the Internet. Neither of these approaches is necessarily well-suited for the acquisition of high-quality information about the world.

This topic is particularly close to my heart, since I am the founder of Vision of Earth, a website attempting to provide high-quality information to the general public about practical ideas for developing the unrealized potential of human societies.

You might also be interested in my broader article about the misleading nature of all media forms.

3 thoughts on “Reading on the Internet – Good, Bad?”

  1. I happened on your blog and was very interested in your blog on “Reading on the Internet – Good, Bad since that is an area that interests me. I wonder very much whether the reading skills students already possess can help them make a success of online reading. I agree with your comment on “confirmation bias”. It took me some time to realize that when I found something that matched my thinking, I was all agog; however I have learned that to be a critical reader, I must look for the “other view” and come up with my own understanding and viewpoint.
    Thanks for your sharing.

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