Gratitude and rumors: the power of the Internet

March 30, 2011 at 8:44 pm

About 20 years ago, a T.A. in one of my college classes said something to me that affected me deeply and profoundly for years afterward. I often wished that I could tell her thanks, but I never saw her again. Over the years I’d think about her periodically, and once even attempted to find her online but was unsuccessful (probably would have helped if I had spelled her name correctly).

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a TEDTalk on his Facebook page. The speaker’s name rang a bell, and when I watched it, sure enough it was my former T.A. I looked up her bio, found out where she worked, and sent her a “you will probably think I’m crazy, but I just had to thank you for something you said to me 20 years ago” email. Being able to say thanks after so many years was truly a gift, and to top it off, she responded very thoughtfully and graciously.

I was awed at the amazing connective power of the Internet. I know there are plenty of people out there who say that Internet connections are shallow and meaningless and actually serve to distance us from each other, but in my opinion the chances of me running into Johanna and having the chance to say thanks in a non-Internet world were pretty much nil. For a couple of weeks I was floating on a cloud of Internet love.

I’m trying really hard to remember that feeling right now.

A couple of days ago a local reporter wrote a story about one potential service model that’s been discussed for one of our smaller branches. The original article gave, at best, a very incomplete picture of the multiple proposals being considered, but it got picked up by a larger news outlet and the rest is Internet history. The news is getting reused and re-edited and two days later major websites and national news organizations are reporting that the Newport Beach Public Library is getting rid of all its books.

Oy vey.

You can read the City’s official response if you’re interested. I was struck once again by how the Internet has made it so easy to connect and spread information. And yet, that amazing power has this really dark side. Does anyone think the City’s press release is going to go viral? Me neither. The damage has been done. Ironically, the misinformation quickly spread nationwide through the Internet, but the cleanup is going to be labor-intensive, local and personal.

Believe me, I’m not trying to argue that the Internet is evil. It’s a tool. It’s all in how we use it. So please don’t believe everything you read. Make sure your B.S. detector is properly calibrated. Check sources. I know it’s a pain, but do it. And be careful what you write. The Internet has put incredible power into the hands of ordinary citizens, which is awesome. But as we all learned from Spider-Man, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Read. Think critically. Dig deeper. Share thoughtfully. Use the power of the Internet for good.

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Being Indispensable Library Day in the Life 7/25/11


"To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong." - Pearce

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