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the internet is always right
the internet is never right
by russ carr (@DocOrlando70)

Once upon a time, before a large percentage of you dutiful readers were born, there was no Internet; there was only packet switching across a relative handful of data lines. There were no Netflix pop-unders, no LOLcats, no viral videos. Instead, this fledgling information network was only for the use of academic researchers and government agencies, providing them a secure, reliable means by which they could exchange ASCII porn.

But then the "World Wide Web" project went public, thanks to a bunch of Eurogeek physicists at CERN, who, undoubtedly drunk beyond belief one day back in 1993, decided to open the Web to positively everyone. And by "everyone" they meant every man, woman, Thetan and ebullient pixie on this planet with a Tripod account or a copy of PageMill.

Now it would be easy to blame European physicists for all of this, particularly in light of their last substantial contribution to human society, but the truth is, they just opened the door; we lurched through it. And in a mere 16 years, we’ve polluted the pristine photons of cyberspace so much, it’d make an Indian cry. The digital detritus of abandoned blogs, half-finished websites and disabled links is all virtual, but I imagine that if it could be rendered, it’d look a lot like the opening scenes in "WALL-E." That’s what happens when apathy and entropy meet.

But there's a third and greater force at work here: stupidity. And it may be a more dangerous online threat than any al-Qaeda bombmaking tutorial or wallpaper of Jessica Biel, because it comes wearing that holiest of Internet labels, "open sourcing." It's community information sharing, but you know it more commonly by its zOMG!cute! acronym: WIKI.*

Exhibit A: Wikipedia (Mostly harmless.)

Wikipedia is both the most innocuous and the most obvious site of its kind. It's made a big point of trumpeting that anyone (who bothers to register) is able to create or edit any of the entries in its enormous database. The problem is, anyone is able to create or edit any of the entries in its enormous database.

In its defense, most of what is posted on Wikipedia is verifiable through other sources. It's a brilliant idea, if a bit undisciplined, and as time goes by we might one day see it (likely after being swallowed by Google) emerge as an accepted and legitimate reference source. Until then, it's at best the most akin to that most renowned of compendia, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. (Yes, even moreso than h2g2. Sorry.)

Exhibit B: eHow (oWhy?!)

First, there was "Cliffs Notes," the literary equivalent of a "Get Out of Jail Free" card for lazy students. Then, when all of those students grew up, there was the "Dummies" book series -- once again in that soothing yellow and black color scheme -- offering to teach you how to do everything from Car Mods to Kabbalah. (A quick aside: I am chagrined that there is no "Ventriloquism for Dummies" in the series.)

Trumping all of that is eHow. Such a nice name for this site -- easy to remember, very succinct. I suspect that's the reason they chose it; trying to recall "We'll-chew-up-your-food-and-regurgitate-it-back-into-your-mouth-if-you'd-like.com" would be a bit taxing.

If books are for dummies, eHow is for morons. Consider some of these skull-splitting conundrums:

- How to Pack a Frugal Lunch
- How to Pack a Frugal School Lunch
- How to Pack a Frugal and Creative School Lunch

There's irony:

- How to Work Through Feelings of Social Isolation

There's jealousy:

- How to Avoid Wikipedia Woes

There's a potential kitchen fire:

- How to Make a Grilled Cheese Sandwich in Your Toaster

That last one is a particular favorite of mine, not just because of the almost certain immolation of the would-be sandwich, but because the profile of the contributor is far cheesier than his advice: "Michael-Jon Lazar has been an active and professional writer for ten years in the industry. He has worked with 100s of clients over the years, both big and small, and currently has more than 20,000 articles and blogs published in both printed and online mediums around the world. He is also in the process of negotiating a major epic fantasy book deal for a ten book series with major publishing houses like: Tor, Dorrance and Random House."

Epic. Awesome, dude.

Exhibit C: Yahoo! Answers (Toxic. Like Britney)

This is a typical question:

"I gotta figure out the weather of the weekends of oct 2008! idk how...! help?!?
in order to figure out the date of when me and my bf met. we know it was the rainest weekend of oct last year. HELP!"

And another:

"Can your baby get pregnant if you have sex while pregnant? like if you are pregnant with a baby girl, and you have sex while you are pregnant, can the sperm go up in there and impregnate the baby?"

I have too much self-respect to even cut and paste the answers. Let's just say I'm not at all surprised by the number of questions I found regarding inbreeding, and leave it at that. This is the nadir, the bottom of the well. If you're actually trying to gain useful information here, I urge you to try something more reliable. Call a 911 operator; they're always happy to take your questions.

Hey, CERN geeks? I take it back; you're entirely to blame. I think it's a plot to make the rest of us stupider. I mean, "more stupid." Just so you can look better.

It's a good thing you're gonna make it up to the world with your Large Hadron Collider.

*An ostentatious acronym that stands for: "What I Know Is..."


If the media is the eye on the world, Russ Carr is the finger in that eye. Tune in each month to see him dispersing the smoke and smashing the mirrors of modern mass communication. The world lost Russ on 2/7/12, but he lives on.

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tracey kelley
9.28.09 @ 8:09a

Ah, the Internet. Allowing you to look as smart or as stupid as you want, without fear of correction or retribution from your peers.

That being said, these days, an 11-year-old probably couldn't approach her/his science teacher (or, in more progressive communities, a health ed teacher) and ask the "can a baby get pregnant" question without being sent to the principal's office and a call to the parents. So the safe anonymity of the 'net can be helpful at times.

lisa r
9.28.09 @ 9:15a

"Can your baby get pregnant if you have sex while pregnant? like if you are pregnant with a baby girl, and you have sex while you are pregnant, can the sperm go up in there and impregnate the baby?"

I'm going to surprise everyone and give a single-word answer instead of a scientific treatise: "No."

I'd like to see all search engines ignore Yahoo!Answers when responding to search queries. They're a waste of bytes and bits. Better yet, I'd like to see sites like that removed from the Internet altogether. No wonder it's starting to run out of IP addresses.


robert melos
9.29.09 @ 1:53a

Dude. The Internet is for porn.

nickie coby
11.26.09 @ 6:18a

I'm convinced that although the internet has great opportunities, there should be some sign ala Bill Engval's signs for stupid people. Maybe a ranking that tells you how stupid a web site is going to be? Then I'd know where to go to get more laughs.

Oh, and if you haven't seen this, you should. Internet Access Captchas


russ carr
3.10.11 @ 12:36p

The Content Farm is taking this concept and running.

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