Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Power of Libraries

When the United States became independent from the UK, there was a massive surge in scientific progress. Why? Because many libraries were built, and the new US refused to recognize UK Copyright. This gave the US a flood of cheap books, and free reading in the library. People had a glut of information available to them, and they put it to great use.
Things have changed since then. The US is now very into international copyright, and many libraries find themselves too short on cash to expand their collection of books, and their funding gets cut over and over. The big source of information is now the internet.
The Internet has more flaws than the library system, even if it does provide information faster. One is that the information on the internet is often very low utility. For a good example of this, see articles on WikiGroaning, in which people note how much useless trivia has accumulated in Wikipedia simply because the contributors like it. Likewise, the internet has loads of funny pictures like LOLcats which contribute little to people's development or understanding.
For another, much of the information on the internet is increasingly wrong. As in, incorrect. Many people get their news from blogs such as this one. While this isn't a problem by itself, blog writers have no inherent qualification. Some have been known to fabricate things, which later get repeated as true. (Sometimes they do this as a prank, other times it is a pious fraud on their part, and other motivations also exist.) Many serious news organizations have repeated stories from satirical papers like The Onion, because they didn't know that everything in The Onion is a spoof. All the information in the world is useless if it's incorrect.
The increasing loss of information to trivial and wrong information threatens the further development of humankind. We have only so many hours per day, and the more distracted and suspicious we wind up, the less productive we can be.

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